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Montford Point Marines from Mississippi Honored

By Evelina Burnett | Published 19 Feb 2014 08:39pm | comments
Marine veteran George Watson of Pass Christian receives a medal in honor of his service from Congressman Steven Palazzo.

Two Mississippi World War II veterans are being honored for their service to their country. Both are Montford Point Marines – among the first group of African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marines.

The Marines began accepting African Americans into their ranks in 1942 – but the training remained segregated. African Americans trained at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina. Corporal George T. Watson of Pass Christian attended basic training there in 1943 and remembers the segregation of the time.

"Only time I would see any white Marines was when we went into town, and they hated us. They would give us a pretty hard time," he says. "I try not to think about those things, but they're indelible. They're a part of me, to know that we're fighting the same war for the same country, and they don't want us. 

"They would say, they're going to take that anchor and that globe off of us," he recalls. "But they weren't successful."

Watson says his basic training at Montford Point taught him endurance and perseverance – lessons that he carries with him and that almost 70 years later, he says are illustrated in the Congressional gold medal he holds in his hand.

"If you endure, regardless of the treatment , regardless of the circumstances, endure and stay fighting, and you will come out at the end," he says.

Watson and fellow Marine veteran Corporal Samuel Walter Sylvester, Jr., of Moss Point were given the medals by Mississippi Fourth District Congressman Steven Palazzo at a ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Gulfport yesterday. Palazzo, also a Marine veteran, says Mississppi and the nation is proud to have the opportunity to recognize these veterans.

"These men sacrificed - spilled the same blood, fought the same enemy, endured the same sacrifices," Palazzo says. "The military is one of the key stepping stones to full integration in our society. It started in the Marine Corps and it was carried to all parts of the United States."

Sylvester, who recently turned 88, says the honor was a welcome surprise. 
 
"It's an honor, and I'm blessed to be here," he says. "I never had a dream I would receive something like this. But it makes me happy."
 
About 20,000 African Americans went through basic training at Montford Point from 1942 until the camp was closed in 1949. Just 400 Montford Point Marines are still alive today. 
 
Palazzo first recognized several Mississippi Montford Point Marines at a ceremony in October 2012, following a ceremony in June 2012 in Washington in which the Montford Point Marines were honored collectively for service. Other potential Montford Point Marines who have not been recognized can call the Congressman's Gulfport office at 228-864-7670.


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