On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran presented 90-year-old World War II veteran George Long of Vicksburg with the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Montford Point veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The medal was presented to Long at the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Veterans Medical Center in Jackson.
Long's health prevented him from attending the 2012 ceremony in Washington where medals were presented to the first African Americans allowed to enlist in the Marine Corps to defend the United States during WWII.
"It's an honor to present the Congressional Gold Medal to George Long as one of our nation's distinguished heroes. At a very young age, Mr. Long volunteered to serve his nation during a turbulent time at home and abroad," said Cochran, a Navy veteran and vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
"The Congressional Gold Medal recognizes and commemorates the bravery of George Long and other Montford Point veterans. They volunteered for the Marine Corps, following a ban on discrimination in government service and the Armed Forces," the Senator said. "Today we know that their service stands as a crucial component of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the fight to end to segregation in the United States."
Cochran worked with Long's daughter Felicia Hawkins and his friend Steve Houston to ensure he received the medal, which is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.
Long volunteered for the Marine Corps in 1942 after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which required the military to accept recruits regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin.
Just 16 years old at the time, he joined other African American recruits at the segregated basic training facility at Montford Point, adjacent to Camp Lejune, N.C. As part of his WWII service, Long notably served as a guard for Japanese prisoners of war following the infamous Battle of Iwo Jima.
"With the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation salutes the volunteers like Mr. Long, who despite segregation and hardship enlisted in the United States Marine Corps during a time of war and served bravely and honorably," Cochran said.
Approximately 20,000 African-American Marines received basic training at Montford Point, before the Marine Corps became fully integrated in 1949. Of those, about 13,000 would serve overseas. Many were the first African-American Marines to see action in World War II, notably at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Mariana Islands.
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