|Johnson receives WWII honor
Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012 6:00 am
By JAKE RUSSELL, Journal-Courier
When Richard Johnson heard about a ceremony for Montford Point Marines in Washington, D.C., to which he hadn’t been invited, he brought his discharge papers to Congressman Aaron Schock’s office.
Barb Baker, Jacksonville office manager for the U.S. representative, investigated the matter and found out Johnson was entitled to one of the highest honors in the United States.
Schock presented to Johnson a Congressional Gold Medal — the highest award Congress can give a civilian in the United States — during a formal ceremony around 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Johnson was one of the first African-Americans to enter the Marine Corps through the non-traditional training facility at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., from 1942 to 1949.
Camp Montford Point existed for black recruits until it was desegregated and deactivated in 1949.
The ceremony was scheduled to take place on the downtown square after the Illinois College Homecoming parade Saturday morning, but the Marines employed their motto of “improvise, adapt and overcome” when rain swept through, causing the parade to be canceled.
They were invited to hold the ceremony at AmVets, 210 E. Court St.
“It’s befitting that this community would have a Montford Point Marine, given its deep roots to step up and serve,” Schock told around 150 people as he presented the medal. “This man has given his life to service. I couldn’t be more proud as his congressman to be able to present this medal here.”
Gathering with Johnson were state, city and military officials; his son, Chuck Black, his grandson, Chuck Black Jr.; former Congressman Paul Findley, representatives with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and past and present students Johnson has influenced.
“Mr. Johnson means a lot to this community,” Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard said, mentioning a few of his volunteer efforts — from the NAACP to civic and educational boards and commissions. “He’s a good person who helps out everyone. I respect him and he’s a model for me.”
Along with a Congressional Gold Medal, Johnson received a flag, a certificate of appreciation and many more accolades.
Ezard presented a proclamation announcing Oct. 13, 2012, as “Richard Johnson Day.”
“This is one of the happiest moments of my life,” Johnson said. “I know the community and the community knows me. That’s an important thing. If there’s a need and I can make a contribution, I am satisfied.”
This is Schock’s first time awarding a Congressional Gold Medal in his four years in Congress.
“You don’t just hand these things out,” he said. “Today is about recognizing his willingness to serve our country when we needed him most. He’s well deserving of it.”