Montford Point Marine veteran receives Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

Rep. Terri Sewell presents Beverly Wilingham, a WWII veteran, with the Congressional Medal of Honor. (

There was a time when African Americans were denied the opportunity to serve in the United States Marine Corps. That changed in 1942, and nearly 20-thousand black men enlisted,{} and became known as the Montford Point Marines.

Mr. Beverly Wilingham was presented with one of the highest honors an American can receive. Those in attendance today say the ceremony was also a time of refection.

Congresswoman Terri Sewell presented the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to the 89-year-old World War II veteran.

He couldn't speak at the time, but no words were needed. Everyone on the room understood what this moment meant.

It's a prestigious honor; a representation of bravery only given to those whose achievement has had an impact on American history

"I think it's really important for us to give honor and tribute to those who really blazed the trail for which most of us are now on," said Sewell.

Willingham was Montford Point Marine, the name given to a group of some 20-thousand black marines who were the first to integrate the Marine Corps after an executive order desegregated the branch.

"It was the start of something that we get to live today. And race and ethnicity has nothing to do with the fact that you serve your country," said Sergeant Major Marcus Chamberline, a U.S. Marine.

Willingham's family members, who were by his side, say the world finally knows what they've known for a while.

Several other Montford Point Marines received Congressional Medals of honor in 2012 at the U.S. Capitol. The group's original gold medal remains at the U.S. Mint in Washington, D.C.