Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring Montford Point Marines

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring the Montford Point Marines.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Good afternoon everyone.  Mr. William McDowell, the Representative of the Montford Point Marines, to each and every one of the Marines who are here, some survivors are here, of the Montford Point Marines, but many members of the families are here as well.  So, a welcome to each and every one of you – let us applaud our Marines, but let us applaud their families as well for their patriotism for our country.  You can wave if you’re family member.

“I’m honored to join our distinguished Speaker, Speaker Boehner, and our Leaders, Senator Reid, Senator Mitch McConnell, other Senators who are [here]; the Representatives of North Carolina, Senator Burr and Senator Hagan; and I’m delighted to join our colleagues on the House side – Congressman West, thank you for your service to our country, and Corrine Brown, the author of the resolution.  She didn’t tell you, and you didn’t hear, that she collected the signatures in record time with the work of our Congressional Black Caucus in the House of Representatives, many of whom are with us this afternoon.  And what was also not mentioned is that she is the second ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee.  So she continues her work and support of our men and women in uniform and their service to our country as a leader on Veterans Affairs as well.  Thank you, Corrine Brown.

“It is indeed, as others have said, a privilege to welcome you here to Emancipation Hall, an appropriate name for this place because you have served our country at a time when it took an extra dose of patriotism to do so.  An  extra dose of courage because all of the freedoms that you were fighting for were not afforded to everyone in our country at that time.  So, here we come together to honor the role that African Americans played in World War II in service of our country.  Today, we gather to pay tribute, as the gold medal says, the insignia says, to ‘perseverance and courage’ of a small group of giants in American history: the Montford Point Marines.

“In the time of these Marines – in an age of inequality – breaking the color barrier in the Marine Corps took nothing less than perseverance, patriotism, and courage of extraordinary proportions.  Fighting for a segregated America – imagine – required that extra dose of courage.  Yet, for the men of Montford Point, the reason to join the Marines was about something more basic: there was a war raging abroad, and they saw it as their duty to fight for their country.  As one of the first recruits would say: ‘I joined the Marine Corps because I felt it was the proper thing to do, to be patriotic to my country.  I felt that this is history in the making.’

“They weren’t just a part of history though, as he said, they made history, they – you were patriots and pioneers.  You’ve proven yourselves, to be in a world war – fighting in a world war – earning respect on the battlefields of the South Pacific and on the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  [You] helped protect our country.  [You] helped change our nation.

“Today, as we give the Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines, this ceremony takes its place in the Capitol and it fits comfortably among other events that we have had here to honor the bravery of African-American patriots.  As has been mentioned by the Reverend, and others, we had the Tuskegee Airmen ceremony not that long ago, it was also overdue.  And a few years ago, we had a ceremony in which Colin Powell was our featured speaker in the Rotunda of the Capitol, to observe the anniversary of the desegregation of the military, an order signed by President Truman.  And wasn’t that a historic time for our country?

“Commandant, thank you so much, Commandant Amos, for being with us.  It’s an honor to welcome you and all of the others as well.  As was recognized, these Montford Point Marines are part of the long drive to break down barriers in the military and in our country.  Coming together in the middle of the 20th century, like you did, you shared the pioneer spirit of all those who fought for civil rights – of a national movement to realize the promise that ‘we are all created equal.’

“Later, these brave men came to understand what their sacrifice meant.  As one former young Marine put it, they had created, you had created, ‘a legacy of young, African Americans that will have an important role to play in this nation whatever discipline they elect to follow.’  The legacy that you created changed the face of our country and altered the course of our history.

“Like all Marines, the men of Montford Point were few and they were proud.  They were ‘Semper Fi’ – ‘always faithful’ to the Corps and to the country.  Like all service members of the Greatest Generation, these men fought to defeat fascism and preserve liberty abroad.  By their actions and their courage, the Montford Point Marines paved a way to justice at home.  You overcame adversity and opened the doors of opportunity.  You drove America to live up to its ideals: civil rights, freedom, and equality, which is our heritage and our hope.

“Your place in history was earned, not given.  You earned the thanks of a grateful nation.  God truly blessed America with the service and patriotism and courage of the Montford Point Marines.  And today, you receive the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow: the Congressional Gold Medal.

“Thank you for your courage and your service to our country.”