ORANGE CITY, Fla., 25 Aug. 2012 --
In a small ceremony in front of family and Marines, Robert Blanks accepted his Congressional Gold Medal.
The medal, given in recognition of his service to our nation, was authorized by Congress and awarded to all Marines who attended recruit training at Montford Point, N.C., a rugged clearing in the woods near Camp Lejuene, N.C.
“This was unexpected. I had no idea it would entail the amount of people it did. I had never seen so many Marines in dress blues in my whole life,” Blanks said of his award ceremony.
Blanks, 85, is one of just over 400 Montford Points Marines alive today who attended recruit training at Montford Point. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt swept away decades of racial discrimination by allowing African Americans the chance to fight for their country. The country at that time was consumed by racial prejudice.
Though allowed to become Marines, African Amerians weren’t allowed to train with their caucasion counterparts, which led to segregated training. Although the efforts of the nation’s first African American Marines are often overshadowed by more popular and well known units such as the Tuskegee Airmen, their contributions are no less significant. It was because of this, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill recognizing the efforts and history of the Montford Point Marines by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal.
“You know, when they first asked me about this medal, I told them to just mail it to me. I did. I didn’t think much of it. I got read out over the phone by a female [Marine]! She said ‘this is the Marine Corps, we don’t do business like that. You’re gonna have a presentation, whether you like it or not.’ So we wound up here. It sure didn’t take long—I was right back in the Marine Corps again,” joked Blanks, from Bronx, N.Y.
Despite the racial differences in the Marine Corps of the 1940’s, the Montford Point Marines were determined to prove to the rest of the Marine Corps they were as good as their caucasion counterparts. Often given less desirable jobs, the Montford Point Marines endured poor treatment, and hard labor intensive jobs and were prevented from fighting on the front lines.
“See, the prejudice robs the country of valuable people. By just saying ‘you’re not qualified, you’re not this’—it’s a waste. A total waste,” Blanks explained.
The Marine Corps today, is by far completely different from the Marine Corps that Pvt. Robert Blanks knew as a young man, but his opinion is the same today as it was then.
“I’m not prejudice against the Air Force, Navy—no one. But I know the Marine Corps isn’t the best just because they brag. They’re the best because they are. They’re not fooling around. They make you. I mean it—they bring out whatever you have,” said Blanks. “The Marine Corps builds character.”