INDIANAPOLIS — Two Indiana natives finally see their grandfathers recognized both for what they did – and what they endured – as Montford Point Marines.
“It was one of the best-kept secrets of his life because no one ever talked about it,” said Marion native Mallorie Berger.
But now Berger is often talking about her grandfather Maurice Burns’ service in the 1940s and that of the other Marines he served alongside at the segregated base in North Carolina, like fellow Marion native Reginald Moore’s grandfather, Morris Ruffin.
“Everything that was set up for them was designed for failure,” said Moore. “They were not meant to be Marines simply because of the color of their skin.”
“This wasn’t your typical ‘let’s break you down to build you up’ Marine Corps story, this was straight-up abuse,” said Berger. “I’ve read stories of these men being forced to drink their own urine I’ve read stories being forced to stand on the banks of a swamp while being bitten by mosquitos… that’s not what a marine should go through or what anyone should go through. That’s partly why they didn’t talk about it how can you talk to your kids about some of the horrible things that were done to them.”
So, for the longest time, they simply didn’t know what their grandfathers endured.
By the time they’d figured it out, it was nine years after the Montford Point Marines were finally recognized in 2012 with the Congressional Gold Medal. So, the Marion natives got in touch with Joe Geeter from the Montford Point Marine Association, who’s been leading the charge for years to make sure these Marines get recognized.
“We’re changing lives (and) we’re establishing legacies,” Geeter said. “Now when somebody asks these families ‘what’d your grandfather do?’ they can stick their chest out and say ‘my grandfather was a Montford Point Marine.’”
Berger and Moore both got the certification they needed so their grandparents could both be officially recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal just like the others. And now they’re working to make sure more Marines get recognized too.
“It’s a recognition that’s long overdue, to be honest with you,” said Moore.
“I’m hoping it can give him some joy in heaven,” said Berger of her grandfather. “It certainly is doing that for me.”
Berger recently attended an event in Florida to honor a still-living member of the Montford Point Marines, which have a chapter here in Indianapolis. Their national organizers estimate there could still be some 18,000 Marines who served at Montford Point that they haven’t been able to find and properly recognize yet.
But they say they’re going to keep at it until each and everyone gets the recognition they deserve.
“It is part of history,” said Berger. “It’s critical, it’s important. Everyone needs to know about it.”