Cpl. George Johnson, one of the first Black Marines, drew applause from the crowd Monday as the 101-year-old was honored for receiving the nation’s highest civilian award.
Johnson, of Lauderhill, served as a military policeman during the World War II era, and was briefly deployed in the Pacific during the conflict’s immediate aftermath. He is one of the Montford Point Marines, the first Black members of the Corps.
On Monday, he was recognized as a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal at a gathering at the Fort Lauderdale African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, where he drew cheers from about 200 attendees. They gathered to honor him and fellow trailblazers in the armed services.
After the event, Junior ROTC members and community members swarmed the centenarian, grabbing pictures with him and reaching out to extend their congratulations. Johnson said he felt “pretty good” about receiving one of the nation’s highest honors.
It’s among the many kudos for him in South Florida: Lauderhill Mayor Ken Thurston previously proclaimed a day after him, “George J. Johnson Day” — and complimented Johnson on his recent accolades.
“I thought he was a very impressive guy,” Thurston said Monday night. “I’m happy that he was honored, and I would extend my congratulations to him on finally being recognized for his contribution to the safety and the well-being of our country.”
Making an impact
A federal law passed in 2011 recognized those Marines for their service and collectively awarded them the Gold Medal. While only one actual gold medal was made in recognition of all 20,000 men, each can be individually recognized with a bronze replica struck by the Secretary of the Treasury, according to the law.
Camp Montford Point was a segregated training ground adjacent to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. Upon arriving, Black recruits were sent to Montford Point, which was in the westernmost corner of Lejeune.
The military was required to begin recruiting Black men under a 1942 executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt, which banned discriminatory employment practices in federal agencies. However, segregation was still allowed until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Montford Point opened in 1942 and was decommissioned in 1949. The Marines were the last branch of the armed services to integrate.
Johnson went to Montford Point at age 22 to train in military policing and attained the rank of corporal. He also served in the Pacific following the end of World War II, from Nov. 2, 1945, to March 28, 1946, and was honorably discharged about two months later.
After serving with the Marines, Johnson joined the White House Guard, then the New York Police Department.
Johnson was born to Bahamian immigrants and raised in Fort Lauderdale. He graduated Dillard High School in 1940.
Another former service member, Cpl. Moses Williams, was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal on Monday, which was accepted by his family. Moses died in 1970, aged 44.
The ceremony also recognized Mallorie Berger, a granddaughter of a Montford Point Marine who has dedicated herself to getting those soldiers recognition for the Congressional honor.
In recognition of her work on behalf of the veterans, Berger was presented with a signed photograph of Montford Point Marines during the ceremony.
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