House Senate leaders held a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony today in Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center to honor the Montford Point Marines, who blazed trails for African-Americans with their historic service in the United States Marine Corps. Following are House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“This is a happy occasion. There are so many people who worked hard to make this day possible: the House sponsors Corinne Brown and Allen West; the Senate sponsors Kay Hagan and Richard Burr; the Montford Point Marine Association, and the Marine Commandant, General Amos. They all deserve a round of applause for making today possible…
“In World War Two, America fought two enemies who told their soldiers that they were ‘supermen’ because of their race. The racial experiments of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan failed utterly. And they failed, in part, due to the bayonets, bombs, and bullets of black American war fighters.
They not only helped defeat tyranny overseas; they thoroughly discredited a poisonous philosophy deeply held and long defended by elites here at home. For a generation, this philosophy justified bigotry, racism, and segregation.
“This philosophy is why allowing blacks to serve in the Marine Corps was called an ‘experiment.’ If it was an experiment, it didn’t last long. Before the end of the war, the Marine Corps commandant at the time said the experiment was over. The men trained at Montford Point were ‘Marines … period!’
“The commandant had witnessed firsthand black Marines fighting hand-to-hand combat during the battle of Saipan. He saw what other white Marines saw. And, he saw what the Montford Point Marines already knew: that they had the right stuff … that they could live by a code … and that they could meet the high calling of the eagle, globe, and anchor.
“Montford Point remained open another five years after the end of World War II. It continued preparing young black men for war, giving them the tools they needed for the challenge of military service.
“One of those men was Barnett Person. He was 16 when he lied to get it in the Marine Corps in 1946. After Montford Point, he went on to witness the full integration of the Marines. He also saw combat in Korea and Vietnam.
“Barnett was awarded the Silver Star for an engagement in Vietnam in 1967 while he was a tanker in the Third Marine Division. His unit was surrounded and attacked by an overwhelming enemy force.
“Barnett Person’s bravery saved his unit’s position. His actions ‘undoubtedly turned what could have been a potentially dangerous situation….into a complete rout of a numerically superior enemy force. By his uncommon leadership, fearless action and selfless devotion to duty….Gunnery Sergeant Person inspired all who observed him and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.’
“This is the legacy of Montford Point: ‘unflinching devotion to other Marines, loyalty to the Corps, courage under any and all circumstances, and an example—now etched in gold—to every Marine of any color.’
“Thank God for the Marines of Montford Point. And thank God for this special occasion that the American people, through their representatives, can demonstrate our love, our respect, and our thanks for all you have endured for our freedom.”