BY JAMES HARPER
Four Volusia County residents and two residents of Flagler County have been invited to receive Congressional Medals of Honor this month in Washington, D.C.
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest civilian honor. The honor is bestowed by the president in the name of Congress.
Dr. James Huger, Eli Graham, John Steele all of Daytona Beach, along with Robert Blanks of Orange City and Wilfred Carr and James Sharpe of Palm Coast in Flagler County, had the opportunity to have served and trained at Montford Point Camp, a segregated training facility for Blacks from 1942 to 1949.
Up until this recognition, the Montford Point Marines have never received the status of other Black soldiers such as the Army’s Buffalo Soldiers and the Air Force’s Tuskegee Airmen.
The Montford Point Marines were the first Black Marine unit that served in the Pacific in World War II.
Forced to allow Blacks to train
The Army and Navy had been recruiting Blacks since the Civil War.
Huger said he was initially drafted to go into the Army, but then the opportunity came when Blacks could join the Marines.
Blacks gained entry to the Marines after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order forcing the commandant to allow them to train.
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order that desegregated the military services and all Marines went to boot camp at either Parris Island or Camp Pendleton.
This month’s ceremony, in which Huger says he will be attending with son John, will take place at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The Montford Point Marines will be recognized by Congress for their contributions to the Marine Corps.
Another ceremony will take place at the Commandant of the Marine Corps residence.
In an interview this week, Huger told the Daytona Times that the honor is well overdue. He compared himself and his fellow Black Marines to the Tuskegee Airmen.
Huger said he first met fellow recipient John Steele in 1942 at the camp. Huger, 97, who is older than Steele, enlisted before Steele arrived.
Huger said he achieved the rank of sergeant major.
At least 400 of the soldiers who served during World War II at that time are still alive.
According to information obtained by the Times, a concerted effort was established by the Montford Point Marine Association (MPMA) to identify all Montford Point Marines, living and deceased.
The MPMA will continue to collect documentation, training information, photos and artifacts even after the ceremony has concluded.
Congress voted last October to grant the first Black fighters of the last military branch the Congressional medal. The 422-0 vote honors about 20,000 Montford Point Marines.
The Montford Point Marine Museum, located near Camp Lejeune, N.C., at Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, holds photos, letters, uniforms and other mementos from Blacks who endured tough training to earn the eagle, globe and anchor Corps’ insignia and disprove the notion they weren’t worthy because of the color of their skin.