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  • May
  • 2017
Marines honor Montford Point Marines, service members in small southern Illinois town

By Gunnery Sgt. Bryan Peterson, 9th Marine Corps District

COLP, Il --

The village in southern Illinois with a population of 250 is often referred to as a “small town with a rich history.” 

The history referenced in Colp, Illinois’ motto comes from the more than 400 men and women who have served in the military, and in some cases, made the ultimate sacrifice during times of war.

The small community briefly saw its population increase about 50 percent, May 27, where people from the around neighboring towns came to honor its fallen service members during the Colp Area Veterans Celebration, Dedication and Remembrance ceremony.

Two Marines with 9th Marine Corps District, stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, were on hand, where they were able to honor four local Montford Point Marines – who were among the first African Americans to serve in the Marine Corps during World War II.

Nearly 20,000 African-Americans joined the Marine Corps in 1942, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a “presidential directive giving African Americans an opportunity to be recruited in the Marine Corps,” according to the Montford Point Marines Association website.

They didn’t receive recruit training at San Diego or Parris Island, however, but Camp Montford Point, N.C., a segregated training site for African American Marine recruits. For the next seven years, the camp remained opened until it became desegregated.

The four Marines are Sol Griffin, Jr.; James L. Kirby, Earl Taylor, Jr. and Archibald Mosley. These Marines, among many other Montford Point Marines across the country, were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that can be given to a civilian by Congress, in 2012. 

Congress unanimously voted to recognize the Marines with the medal on Nov. 11, 2011, to recognize their contributions to the Marine Corps during the racial, tense times. Then-President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law, 12 days later.

Mosley, who served in the Marine Corps from 1942-1946, is one Colp’s two Montford Point Marines still living. Taylor is the other and lives in Detroit. He was in attendance to accept the Congressional Gold Medal plaque, created by local townspeople.

Despite what Mosley described as a “physical sacrifice,” to get into a vehicle due to his ailing legs, the 93-year-old, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., at an assisted living facility, made the three-hour trip with one of his daughters so he could tell the story of the Montford Point Marines.

He also said he was told Marines would be there and “would not miss it for the world.”

“I wasn’t disappointed,” the grinning Marine said. “As soon as I got in my wheelchair, the first people I saw were two Marines in dress blues. They reminded me of myself back then – skinny and lean. But, I can’t wear it anymore. Which is why it’s great those Marines still can, to keep the Corps looking good!”

During the ceremony, multiple speakers, many of whom were veterans, spoke about the importance of remembering the sacrifices of the fallen. One such person is Jim Gentile, a local man from a nearby town who always wanted to give back to the military. He spearheaded the event that took place next to the town’s post office.

“I couldn’t join the armed services, they wouldn’t let me in during Vietnam,” Gentile said. “But, I always respected the military and what they were willing to leave behind for my freedom. In 2012, I found out about Mosley and three other Colp residents who received the Congressional Gold Medal. Lots of people, including myself, didn’t know about these guys and their contributions. So, I wanted to make it known.”

While going through their initial training, Mosley and other black Marines endured more hardships recruits would normally be used to, such as not getting hot showers and living in cardboard shacks.

Despite the racial treatment they received, it made Mosley and many more driven to get through the training and overseas to the fight.

“Those were some bad, horrible times: things I would never wish on my worst enemy,” Mosley said. “But, one place racism never was present was in battle.”

Mosley, along with more than 10,000 other Montford Point Marines, went on to serve in battles like Iwo Jima and Okinawa, performing admirably and enabling them to serve in follow-on conflicts such as in Korea and Vietnam. 

“It’s been said before, but bullets don’t have names, races or religions written on them,” said the former corporal. “It has one objective and that is to kill whoever is not on their side. We fought together against a common enemy.”

Sergeant Mike Stachowski and Lance Corporal Jake Lamb were able to hand-deliver the Congressional Gold Medal mementos to Mosley and to the families of the other recipients. 

In addition to hand delivering the mementos, the Marines placed a wreath front of a sign, with the town’s more than 400 service members on it.

Stachowski said he and Lamb were honored to be part of an event that “gives the Montford Point Marines the recognition they deserve.”

“One of the things about the Marine Corps that keeps me going is how we remember those who came before us,” he said. “Marines like Mosley and the other Montford Point Marines we are honoring today, are the reason why the Corps is and always will be strong.”

“I was very happy to be a part of this,” Lamb said. “I have only been in the Marine Corps just short of two years and this is something I’ll remember having been a part of.”

Mosley said his presence at the ceremony was not about him, but about those of all races who have passed away fighting for their country, and for those who the country “didn’t value equally at the time.”

“I am in no way regretful for my time, sacrifice and service to the Marine Corps – I am very proud for what I did,” he said. “But, I am a preacher and I always preach that we don’t hold grudges, that there should be no malice in our hearts for others. I am just grateful, even though it took a long time, for the people in Washington, D.C., to finally recognize our efforts for our country. I am just glad more people know about us and am very proud to represent all Montford Point Marines.”