Morning Brew: Black Marines getting overdue honor of Congressional Gold Medal

They broke Marine Corps color barrier, then forgotten

By Guy Gordon - Reporter/Anchor

DETROIT - Some assignments are chore.

Others are a challenge.

And then there are stories you feel privileged to be able to tell.

This is one of those stories.

The Montford Point Marines are named for a makeshift training camp hastily built in North Carolina, shortly after FDR ordered the armed forces to enlist black Americans. 

Henry Baul,89, was among the first five Marines to report to Montford point after becoming one of the first blacks enlisted by the USMC, the last branch of the service to comply with the President's order.

"I tried to enlist the day after Pearl Harbor.I was devastated by the attack. I wanted to do something," said Baul.

Now, 70 years after Baul's first platoon began training, he and other Montford Marines will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. 

It is a long overdue honor for a group of trail-blazers largely forgotten. 

While the legendary Tuskegee Airmen have been feted with honors, a Hollywood movie, and countless books, the 20,000 African-American Marines who trained at the segregated facility near Camp LeJeune faded into obscurity.

More than 400 of these heroes are still with us. Forty-six of them call Michigan home.

I had the distinct privilege of sitting down with 4 of them as they prepared to travel to Washington D.C. with ecstatic family members for the medal ceremony.

They suffered racist humiliation and discrimination upon leaving Montford Point, but for the most part feel their training was no more harsh than any other Marine faced in boot camp. 

While some in their ranks have complained about being assigned to the rear echelon when serving in the Pacific, these men feel privileged to have served in the 51st Defense Battalion.

They bravely manned anti-aircraft guns defending islands captured from the Japanese by all-White forces.

They feel their performance proved black soldiers could serve as well or better than white Marines.

Says Baul, "It proved segregation, holding people back based on color, was not the way. That's not America. America was better than that."

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.