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Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, I take the floor today to pay tribute to a group of Americans that blazed a trail, people who helped to shape the history we share, and whose contributions deserve recognition at the highest levels.
There has been no war fought by or within the United States in which African Americans did not participate.
The war for our independence featured all-Black units in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. During the War of 1812, about one-quarter of the Navy involved in the Battle of Lake Erie was Black. Nearly 190,000 African Americans fought for their own freedom in the Civil War. In World War I, over 350,000 Black men served on the Western Front.
But prior to 1941, Black servicemen were denied the honor and glory that comes with uniformed service, and their contributions went largely unnoticed. The units were segregated. Black infantry divisions hardly saw the battlefield. They served our Nation with honor, but our Nation did not honor their service.
But on June 25, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt changed all that. Executive Order 8802 prohibited racial discrimination in the Nation's military. It was the first Federal action to promote equal opportunity in the United States.
Immediately, people of color answered the call and joined all branches of the service. Soon, the very first Black U.S. marines began training at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina. These men would become the first Black drill instructors, the first Black combat troops, and the first Black officers the Marine Corps had ever seen.
More than 19,000 Black marines served in the Second World War. Some, like SGM Edgar Huff and SGM Louis Roundtree, served in Korea and Vietnam as well. They earned decorations such as the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart.
All of the Montford Point marines sacrificed for their country, and for that they deserve our deepest gratitude. But they also did far more than sacrifice on the battlefield. They broke down barriers. Their names may not be as familiar as Washington, Jefferson or Lincoln. But their contribution to the American story deserves more than our respect. Through their actions, they changed the face of the U.S. military.
They deserve our praise and recognition.
Last fall, I introduced S. 1695, a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point marines. I urge my colleagues to move forward and honor these fine men and women. Every American has benefited from their sacrifice, their bravery, and their leadership. And every American should learn from their fine example.
Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Every day, approximately 900 brave American souls who served in World War II pass away. We should honor our greatest generation while we have the chance to look them in the eye and thank them.
Since the day a few brave men began their training at Camp Montford Point more than half a century ago, the U.S. Marine Corps has been transformed into a stronger, more diverse fighting force. The legacy of the Montford Point marines represents what is best about this Nation's history. Theirs is a proud chapter in the continuing American story.
As I address this Chamber today, I am surrounded by the towering monuments to our Founding Fathers, and the memorials to those who have fought and died so that we might live free. It is time to make the Montford Point marines a part of that immortal history--to award them the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.
I ask that my colleagues join with me in celebrating these American heroes.
We need to do it before it is too late, and we will not have any of them to look into the eye and tell them: Thanks for your service. Thanks for standing up against some of the toughest situations on the battlefield but even tougher situations as Blacks on the homefront.
I yield the floor.
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