JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina — Two Indiana families recently had the distinct privilege of having their loved ones honored for their service during World War II while serving at a racially segregated base in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Ed Matthews of Indianapolis received a Congressional Gold Medal honoring his father, Ed Matthews Sr., for all of his contributions and service as a U.S. Marine at Montford Point base.
“It means a lot, it really means a lot,” Ed said. “It was very exciting, it was very humbling.”
Ed’s father was one of the thousands of African-American men who were known as the Montford Point Marines, the first African-American recruits in the Marine Corps to be trained at Montford Point. This eventually ended the U.S. military’s longstanding practice of racial segregation.
Despite being admitted into the Marine Corps, they were segregated from their Caucasian counterparts who trained at nearby Camp Lejeune.
Ed said he now understands so much more about the difficult social barriers and exemplary service his father provided to his country after making the trip to North Carolina to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in his father’s honor.
“He never talked about it .. a lot of those guys didn’t talk about it,” Ed said. “He never talked about the struggle he had to go through being a black man. He never talked about none of that.”
Maya Neely of Indianapolis was also present during the awards ceremony as her grandfather was finally recognized for his service at Montford Point.
Maya also shared that her grandfather served in Iwo Jima, Japan as part of the United States’ ground forces during its Pacific campaign.
“You’re angry your relative had to go through this but there’s so much pride and respect and love,” Maya said. “It was overwhelming. Many of us were overwhelmed to tears.”
According to Visit Jacksonville’s official site, the Montford Point Marine Association has been actively working to identify and award Congressional Gold Medals to the families of all men who served in the Montford Point Marine Corps but were not formally recognized.
“They knew the fight they were entering,” Maya said. “It wasn’t just to serve the country, to be soldiers. They had to fight in order to fight, for the right to fight.”
Indiana native Mallorie Berger helped make the connection so Maya’s grandfather and Ed’s father could be officially recognized by the United States.
“For me, when I’m able to call someone to say your father, grandfather, or uncle was one of the first black men to integrate the Marines, to feel the joy and meet these people, it’s incredible,” Mallorie said.
Mallorie’s grandfather, Maurice Burns, also served at Montford Point.