A handful of retired Marines from Wilmington will be honored in Washington, DC, tomorrow with the Congressional Gold Medal. The men being recognized by President Obama are the first ever African-American Marines. The Montford Point Marine camp was established at Camp Lejuene nearly 70 years ago. The camp was home to the first group of African-American Marines, including James Wilson, who lives in Wilmington.
“When I first joined the Marines I never thought I’d be making history or anything like that,” Wilson said. “I was just joining to do something for my country and fight for my country.” Wilson, 82, started his military career at then segregated Montford Point. The retired Marine says he experienced a fair share of racism in his early years of service.
“We had a POC (Point of Contact, a private), he was a white guy, and he was telling the sergeant what he wanted us to do, and I couldn’t understand that,” Wilson said. At that point in time an African-American sergeant could not give orders to a white private.
Things would change after Wilson’s service in Korea. He says he’s proud to be part of a group that broke down military racial barriers. “If I had to do it again, I would do it,” he said. “I would join the Marine Corps and go back and do it again.”
Wednesday, Wilson, along with the other Montford Pointers, will receive the highest civilian award in the United States. The Congressional Gold Medal is awarded only to those who perform an outstanding act of service to the security, prosperity and national interest of the country.
“I might put that gold medal around my neck and run a mile,” Wilson said. “I’ll be so happy.” There will be a reception Saturday at the Montford Point Museum at Camp Lejeune honoring those recipients.