A 94-year-old Marine veteran from Hayward, California, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Aug. 2 — nearly three quarters of a century after he fought to clear the Marshall Islands from the Japanese in World War II.
Joseph Alexander was awarded one of the nation’s highest civilian honors for being among the first African Americans to enlist in the Corps and attend recruit training at Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Alexander’s exploits during World War II in the Pacific and his time at Montford Point were first detailed in a story by the East Bay Times.
According to the East Bay Times, Alexander’s family stumbled upon his past as a Montford Point Marine while working with Department of Veterans Affairs to get him medical benefits.
Alexander joined the Corps in 1943 at the age of 19, following then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 signing of an executive order that prohibited ethnic or racial discrimination in federal agencies working in defense and forced the military to recruit blacks.
Montford Point opened its doors to train African American Marine recruits in 1942, while white Marines were trained at Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego.
Alexander would go on to fight in the Pacific theater during World War II, but details of his feats are few as Alexander rarely talked about his service during the war, the East Bay Times reported.
President Harry Truman would eventually desegregate the military in 1948.
In 2011, then-President Barack Obama signed legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines.
But to date, less than 2,000 of the out of nearly 20,000 African American Marines who went trough recruit training at Montford Point from 1942 to 1949 have been identified and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, according to Joe Geeter, a spokesman for the National Montford Point Marine Association.
Alexander was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal Friday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Hayward, California.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.