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Congress to honor first black Marines

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Congress to honor first black Marines

Camp Montford, N.C., service members to get Gold Medals

  • Veterans of the Montford Point Marine Association speak with a Marine in 2007.
    Eugene Groves via WikipediaVeterans of the Montford Point Marine Association speak with a Marine in 2007.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the nation's first black Marines, USA Today reports.

The 422-0 vote is meant to honor the nearly 20,000 black Marines who trained at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina between 1942 and 1949, when the branches of the military were segregated.

"This has been a real long time coming," Johnny Washington, 82, told USA Today. "It seems like everything we did for a long time was hidden. It's been real frustrating when you see others get recognition and not us."

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Marines were trained after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an order opening the Marine Corps to African Americans in 1941.

From the Times:

Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos expressed his support for the medal, saying in a letter to lawmakers that the Montford Point Marines "served with distinction in three of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific — Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa," "defended a society that enjoyed freedoms they did not share" and "contributed, in large measure, to President Truman's decision to order the desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1948.''

The Washington Post reports that Amos has made diversifying the Marines a priority. The Marines are still largely white, especially at the top — less than 5 percent of Marine officers are black.

“Every Marine — from private to general — will know the history of those men who crossed the threshold to fight not only the enemy they were soon to know overseas, but the enemy of racism and segregation in their own country,” Amos told the Post.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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