Local chapters of the Montford Point Marine Association and its Ladies Auxiliary recently hosted the 17th Annual Chosen Few Luncheon Banquet and Awards Ceremony at the Hilton St. Louis Airport. The event honors the legacy of the first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Keynote speaker retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Willie Williams said African Americans have a long history of participating in our nation’s wars. And the historical contributions of African Americans within the military have created a social change throughout the nation that has had a lasting impact, Williams said.
The Montford Point Marines simultaneously fought battles abroad and at home, he said.
“It was amazing to me that these Montford Point Marines – in that type of environment – would still fight so hard to serve a nation that was determined to treat them as something less than human,” he said.
The U.S. Marine Corps was the last branch of the service to admit African Americans. Segregation laws of the 1940s prohibited blacks from training with whites, and a separate training facility was created for black recruits at Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville, N.C. From 1942 to 1949, nearly 20,000 black men trained at Montford Point.
Williams said he and others who look like him would not have had the same opportunities, if it were not for the original Montford Point Marines who broke down barriers.
Williams said his proudest achievement in his military career was spearheading the passage of H.R. 2447, a bill to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to original Montford Point Marines. President Obama signed the bill into law on November 23, 2011. Nearly 400 original Montford Point Marines received Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian honor, on June 27, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
“There were tears of joy because it had been a long fight to get that,” Williams said.
Original Montford Point Marines Godfrey Wilson and James Wilkes, of St. Louis, and Wendell Ferguson and John Vanoy, of Chicago, attended the event. All men stood and were applauded, with random outbursts of “hoo-rahs” from some in the audience.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie A. Dooley rushed from the dedication ceremony of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge to introduce his friend James H. Buford. Buford, board member of the National Urban League and former president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, was awarded the chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He’s the only man I know who wears a bow tie every day of the week and looks pretty good in them,” Dooley joked of Buford.
Michael P. McMillan, Buford’s successor at the local Urban League, is the recipient of last year’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Buford said he was honored to be chosen by the “Chosen Few.” Buford spoke of receiving awards from numerous organizations because it was thought to be “the good thing to do.” This award, he said, is particularly special to him because it comes from men of honor, discipline and service.
“If young African-American men could follow in the mold of the Montford Point Marines and these gentlemen in the room,” Buford said, “then we wouldn’t have any problems.”
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt.-At-Arms Taylor Faulkner and Jeri Myers, past president of the Ladies Auxiliary, were the recipients of the chapter’s President’s Award.
The chapter continues to preserve the legacy of the Montford Point Marines for future generations. Alan L. Parker Sr., president of the MPMA St. Louis Chapter #13, raised awareness for the Montford Point Marines Memorial Project and pleaded for financial support.
“The Montford Point Marine Memorial will tell the story of the men of Montford Point to our children, to future Marines, and to Americans for years to come,” Parker said.
The Montford Point Marines Memorial Project will be located within the Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C.
For information on the Montford Point Marines Memorial Project, visit http://www.mpmamemorial.com/.