Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks at a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony today honoring the Montford Point Marines:
"Speaker Boehner, Leader Reid, Leader Pelosi, fellow members of Congress, members of the U.S. military, distinguished guests and friends.
"Today we gather to honor the Marines of Montford Point, not just for their pioneering role in breaking down the color barrier in the U.S. Marine Corps, but for their courage and their sacrifice amid the indignity of racial discrimination.
"In particular, I would like to recognize six Marines from my home state of Kentucky who I understand are here with us today: Edward Churchill, Thomas Cork Sr., James Foreman, Lutherlee Goodwin, Clarence Hunt Jr., and Albert Jones.
"For volunteering to defend our nation during World War II, all the men we recognize today secured a permanent place of honor in our national memory. For doing so in the face of mistreatment and injustice we owe them an even greater measure of respect and gratitude. They are among the greatest of the Greatest Generation.
"The nearly 20,000 Marines who trained at Montford Point between the years 1942 and 1949 trained in remarkably difficult conditions. Instead of standard barracks, like the ones their white counterparts slept in at Camp Lejeune, the living quarters at Montford Point were more like overcrowded huts -- where a single stove supplied heat for more than 40 men.
"Yet most just brushed these things aside. As one of the men put it years later: "We were so gung-ho and patriotic, we weren't concerned at all about what we were going to do. We just wanted to get in there and fight.'
"Restricted to training for support roles, African American Marines had to wait for their chance to prove themselves on the battlefield. But the chance finally came in the Pacific theater, where many saw combat in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, including Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Okinawa, and carried out their duties with great courage and heroism.
"I want to publicly commend the Marine Corps, especially General James Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, for his determination in acknowledging some hard truths about the Corps' past, and for bringing to light the importance of the Marines of Montford Point. Recognition of their accomplishments is long overdue.
"Still, for many of these men, it was never about gaining recognition. It was about defending the nation they loved, and paving a path for the generations of African American men and women who would follow them into the Marine Corps.
"This point was driven home about six years ago when one of them showed up at a reunion. While there, he came across a senior Marine officer who happened to be an African American. "You can't imagine how much pride I feel seeing you in that uniform,' he told the officer. "It's enough to make an old Marine cry.'
"The officer replied, "I owe much of this to you.'
"And so we honor the Montford Point Marines who are here today and the thousands who are no longer with us; for rising above and beyond the call of duty to defend this nation, and for enduring a great injustice with dignity and forbearance.
"For your bravery and service, Congress recognizes you today with our nation's highest civilian honor. Thank you gentlemen, and congratulations."