Montford Point Marine Receives Congressional Gold Medal

Known more professionally for his work involving the eradication of fruit flies, Dr. Ernest James Harris, Jr. received the highest civilian award in the United States for his contributions as a Marine.

U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Brian W. Cavanaugh, deputy commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, presented Dr. Harris with his Congressional Gold Medal at Washington Place in Honolulu, Nov. 12, 2016.

“I’m proud to join in the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to Dr. Ernest Harris, the highest civilian award bestowed by the Congress of the United States,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz. “We are here to recognize the unwavering perseverance and courage of Dr. Harris and his fellow Montford Point Marines that inspired change in the Marine Corps.”

On Nov. 23, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. This award recognizes Montford Point Marines’ contributions to the Marine Corps and the United States of America from 1942 to 1949, during a time of hardship and segregation.

Many of the Montford Point Marines attended the award ceremony held at the Capital Visitor Center, District of Columbia, June 27, 2012. Those not able to attend received the award through mail or during special ceremonies.

“The Montford Point Marines were warriors, they fought not only home but abroad during hard times, and it is worthy of this medal,” Cavanaugh said.

The opportunity for African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps came in 1941. A year later, they began their train in at Camp Montford Point, North Carolina, during a time and place where racism and segregation were a part of everyday life. Schatz explained that despite segregation of the Montford Point Marines, they had excellent performance during Peleliu, Iwo Jima, the Chosen Reservoir, and in Vietnam.

“Anyone who knows a Marine, knows they are a Marine regardless of race, religion or creed and nowhere this is truer than in war,” Schatz said. “As one Montford Point Marine recalled later in life, ‘a bullet doesn’t care what color you are, it will kill you just the same.’”

Harris explained how he thought he could fulfill an exciting career as a pilot or mechanic in the Marine Corps, but ended up cleaning rifles and artillery weapons.

“I wanted to get some extra training to be able to get a job and become a professional,” Harris said.

Harris left the Marine Corps, and with the support of the G.I. Bill, finished college at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. Later, he submitted an officer’s package to the Marine Corps but was denied entry due to medical reasons.

Harris earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Minnesota and holds a doctorate in entomology from the University of Hawaii. He worked for more than 40 years as a research entomologist for the U. S. Department of Agriculture and is known for the sterilization of fruit flies, which allowed fruit to be exported all over the world.

“Let us all commit to carrying forward your story and the memory of the Montford Point Marines so that we will always remember your service to our great country,” Schatz said.

STORY ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED HERE >>

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16 thoughts on “Montford Point Marine Receives Congressional Gold Medal”

  1. Since I served 1969 to 1973, our Marine Corps was already thoroughly integrated when I enlisted. This fit in with the way I was raised and thought nothing of it. Just normal to judge people on their abilities and not ethnic background, religion or anything but being a fellow Marine. MANY years later I read about Montfort Point Marines and proudly learned the Marines lead the way, as expectled {always being first}, in integrating the military. Semper Fi!!!!

  2. Sgt. Grit I served with a supply unit at my first duty station as a raw boot recruit- and was naturally the FNG- so I was played with- and it was all in good fun. Had a Gunny who was a drinker and a mean S O B who unknown to me went after a real nice friendly helpful Sgt. who was always supporting us young ones and teaching us invaluable experience as a good NCO should. The Gunny was a racist and really hated everyone and had a chip on his shoulder. but we had to deal with him daily – one day the guy in the barrel was me and the Sgt defended me and the Gunny went off on him – the whole group was really embarrassed for the poor old Sarge – later on I was friendlier with the Sgt- who told me of the black platoons during World War 11- ans the segregation and hate he had to deal with also- made me aware that I was a proud Marine- but we also had to deal with adversity as part of the daily routine. Love Sgt Grit Shirts

  3. I have 3 Congressional Gold Medal members in my family…How special is that? All three were with the 442nd Infantry/100th Btn (Go for Broke) in WWII…I felt very proud and honored when I witnessed the presentation ceremony…

  4. Am I missing something? The newsletter seems to be much shorter. There are fewer stories. The newsletter I used to get was one long page of stories. Is there another letter or did someone make some drastic changes?

    1. It’s shorter at my house. No more quotes. No more short rounds. I guess if you were looking for some guys it won’t get printed. And the long time contributors aren’t contributing. What’s that tell us? I know what it tells me; interest is drifting away.

  5. My buddy Floyd “Chuck” Wortham, now deceased was on Iwo Jima, where he was a Plt Sgt of a stevedore unit. He received the Navy Commendation w/ combat. V. Lost one man due to non-hostile causes. Retired from CBS after 33 yrs. Moved from NY to NM and joined the sheriff’s reserve at 65. When I resigned as Cap’t I was able to maneuver his app’t as Cap’t. Floyd did a great job. He made S/Sgt by the time he got out. Our 3rd buddy was a Jewish former Pfc. who served on the retake of Guam. I’ll never forget those guys.

  6. You can’t tell me that every Marine that served on Montford Point was AJ squared-away! Every unit has at least one s#!tbird. But their “birds” were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. When you award a medal based on the color of a man’s skin, you aren’t doing anyone any favors. You are promoting racism! Those men weren’t drafted, they volunteered. They received a paycheck, were promoted, were decorated, and fed the same food as all Marines. I don’t care what you say, the award of that medal to every Marine that served there is very wrong!

    1. Your not right. How do you know if they were like that. They had to deal with more than you’ll ever know. Give them the respect they deserve. SEMPER FI. Once a MARINE always a MARINE.

  7. Larry is right. To single them out only because of their color is disrespectful and divisive to Corps and country.. There are many Montford Point Marines that should have been recognized for their deeds and weren’t. That should be corrected by reviewing the records, and giving those deserving, the appropriate award.. That would be the correct way to honor these men who sacrificed much to be come Marines.

    1. Who are we to say if they deserve it or not? Did you have to deal with what they did during that time? Probably not. Maybe not all deserve the award but I’m sure that the ones that did got it and others went unnoticed. No one has forgotten their sacrifice for their country. Neither should you.

  8. It took almost fifty years years for these fine Marines to be recognized for their Patriotism at a time of this country’s need. The adversity they experienced is documented, along with their contributions. No MARINE who knows their history would consider this demeaning or promoting racism. If the UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS DIDN’T AGREE, IT WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED. SEMPER FI !

  9. Larry and Aardq, The Marine Corps and U S Military has a tradition of honoring all members of a unit: PUC, NUC etc. I got my NDSM after boot camp because there was a war going on although I was over a year away from being a part of it. All the Montford Pt. Marines were part of history and were long overlooked. Give ALL of them the credit they deserve.

  10. in my 4 &1/2 years as a u.smarine i believed hat tall marines were green regardles of color. sgt t.a.dicks/2008269/3421 sept 1962 to, jan 1867

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