Carl Windom, son of the late Pfc. James Windom, speaks at a ceremony at the base chapel on Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany on Friday. At the ceremony, the Windom family accepted the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of the Montford Point Marine. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
MCLB-ALBANY — A late Montford Point Marine’s family was at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany on Friday to receive the ultimate civilian honor bestowed by Congress.
The survivors of Private First Class James Windom were presented a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony at the base’s chapel on Friday afternoon.
“We’ve got a long way to go. We can’t let their sacrifices be in vain,” said Col. Don Davis, commanding officer of MCLB-Albany.
Windom was too ill to travel when President Barack Obama presented the medal to the Montford Point Marines to honor them for their contributions to the Marine Corps and the country. He has since died, so the medal was arranged to be presented to his spouse and family members.
Windom became a member of the Montford Point Marines in June 1943. He was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in August 1949. He was married for 62 years to Carletha Windom, with whom he had nine children — three of whom served in the military.
Carl Windom, the late Montford Point Marine’s son, spoke of his father as an individual who carried himself with a lot of pride.
“At a very young age, he left home to make a difference and ended up making history,” he said.
On June 27, 2012, House and Senate leaders awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to approximately 400 Montford Point Marines in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. The Commandant of the Marine Corps also held a parade in their honor the next day at Marine Barracks Washington.
Among those at the 2012 ceremony from the Montford Point Marines was Henry Jackson, who is now 85.
“It’s historical,” he said when asked what Friday’s ceremony meant to him. “It assures us that we did a good job, and we appreciate it.”
Recipients who cannot attend an upcoming ceremony are generally included in the next class. Windom is one of approximately 100 Montford Point Marines who were unable to attend the Congressional Gold Medal events in June.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor given by Congress for distinguished achievement. Each year, the Congressional Award celebrates the accomplishments of its recipients through the annual Gold Medal ceremony. The June event brings together the medalists from across the country for a week of celebration with the ceremony, special events and a touring program during the week, The Congressional Award website explains.
In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt established a presidential directive giving African-Americans an opportunity to be recruited into the Marine Corps. These African-Americans, from all states, were not sent to the traditional boot camps of Parris Island, S.C. and San Diego. Instead, African-American Marines were segregated and experienced basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, a history provided by the National Montford Point Marine Association said.
Approximately 20,000 African-American recruits received training at Montford Point Camp, less than 10 percent of the Marine Corps strength, during World War II. The initial intent of the Marine Corps hierarchy was to discharge these African-American Marines after the war, returning them to civilian life and leaving the Marine Corps an all-white organization — but attitudes changed.
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order ending segregation. The next year, Montford Marine Camp was deactivated.