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Posted on July 27, 2018 at 8:03 PM by Trisha Ferguson
On July 25, 2018, in Jacksonville N.C., twelve individuals (many posthumously) were awarded the Congressional Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded for service to the United States. The men were recognized for their service as Montford Point Marines, the first African-American Marines to serve the United States military during World War II. The Montford Point Marines trained separately from their white counterparts at Camp Johnson, near what is now U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
We were able to contact some of the family members who accepted the honor on behalf of their father or loved one. Here are a few stories of these brave patriots:
Dewey Barnett was drafted in 1942 from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. When he arrived at the draft office, he stood in line and counted off numbers. Dewey’s number assigned him to the Marines instead of the Army. He was to become one of the first African-American Marines in American history. When the bus carrying him and his fellow new recruits pulled up to the base, the officers were surprised to find that they were not receiving white soldiers; they closed down the USO, and the men were unable to get coffee and food upon arrival. The prejudice of that first day was to be endured throughout his service. Barnett rarely spoke of his time to his family. After three years in service, he was discharged in 1945.
His son, Dewey Barnett III, says that his father recalls “catching hell there [as a Marine].” Dewey Barrett’s son doesn't know if his father would accept the medal today. He says of his father, "It depends on whether he was in a good mood or not when you asked him."
The younger Barnett believes it is important to accept the medal on behalf of his now deceased father. "He earned it—so give it to him,” he says. Dewey Barnett's medal will be accepted at the ceremony by his two sisters, who are traveling from California and Mississippi to North Carolina to claim it. They are proud of their brother and wish to fulfill their duty to him as they accept credit for the service he gave to our country.
James Moss was 32 when he became a Marine. His family isn’t sure whether he was drafted or enlisted. Like most members of the Montford Point Marines, he rarely talks about his experiences enduring not only World War II, but the extreme and constant prejudice. In fact, he mentioned it so rarely that his wife always thought it was one of the tall tales that her husband was known to craft. It wasn't until his granddaughter, a journalist, unearthed records of Moss’ service from government archives that the family became fully aware of his service. They are now proud to accept the medal posthumously on his behalf.
In 1943, David Reed was 18 years old when he joined the Montford Point Marines. Born in Louisiana, he traveled to Jacksonville, N.C. from his home in Macon, Georgia. He enlisted because he wanted to do something more constructive than wait at home while his father traveled and worked.
After basic training, he became a cook and found he enjoyed the work. Every weekend, he and the other Marines would choose a new town to visit. They did not often visit the same place more than once; even though they were servicemen, a group of black men was not always welcome in small, southern towns. On one of these excursions, however, his friends began flirting with a young lady in a town near Camp Lejeune. Although his friends were more talkative, the young woman took an interest in Reed. They were later married, and Reed’s wife landed a job working for the base commander’s wife. The commander’s wife liked the young Mrs. Reed so much that she had Reed stationed at Cherry Point, N.C., so the new couple would stay stateside, close to her.
When the war ended and he was discharged, Reed returned to Georgia and helped run his father's master plaster business. He stayed in contact with many of the other Montford Point Marines and loved cooking for his family. His award will be accepted posthumously by his daughter, Alyce Hawkins from Greenville, N.C. Reed’s sons and grandsons have all served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
ROBERT EDWARD LOVE
Robert Edward Love enlisted in the Marines in 1944. He was young and wanted to experience more than the family farm in Cheraw, South Carolina. According to his daughter, Patricia Coachman, he fought in the Pacific Islands. She recounts a story he told her where the Marines were hunkered down in foxholes for days to avoid Japanese fire. His friend and fellow Marine, name unknown, could no longer endure it, and snuck down to the beach for a bath. Love told him not to go. The man was almost back to the safety of the foxhole when he was hit and killed by the enemy.
Love was on the ground at Iwo Jima and fought and bled alongside white Marines. He told his daughter they were not allowed near the flag, that the Montford Pointers were barred from the now iconic raising of the flag at Iwo Jima and kept separate from the white Marines when it was time to claim victory. Love told his daughter, "I was standing right there by that man's foot."
After Love’s death and the death of his wife, Coachman found his discharge papers in her mother's old pocketbook. Upon seeing that he was a Montford Point Marine, she began to dig deeper and watched a documentary on the battalion, looking for pictures of her father. Eventually, she discovered that her father was eligible for the Congressional Gold Medal: “It means a lot because dad was proud...he was always quick to say, 'I was a Marine.’ ”
Robert Love's daughter will bring his discharge papers as well as his father’s discharge papers from WWI (from another branch of the service) to the ceremony. The third generation of this family is currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Tag(s): World War II, U.S. Marine Corps, Montford Point Marines, Marines, Congressional Medal, Camp Lejeune, African-American Marines