Nearly 70 years after they became the first black recruits enlisted in the Corp, the Montfort Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, Thursday.
Some 20,000 African-American Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, a segregated base near Camp Lejeune that operated from 1942 to 1949.
Many of the men served in World War II and Korea. But despite their valor, the Montford Point Marines had not been celebrated before now.
"Being black, you can't let that be a drawback. You have to look forward," said 90-year-old Norman Preston, an original Montford Point Marine.
"There's better things in life to dwell on than your color," he added. "[God] will supply all your needs. Just trust in Him."
Rep. Corrine Brown, D-FL, introduced legislation to recognize the Montford Point Marines.
“This bill was probably the most bipartisan bill we’ve passed and are going to pass in this Congress,” Brown said to laughter.
On a more serious note, she applauded the Marines for being an example.
“They laid the groundwork as to what Americans could stand for before Jackie Robinson, before Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Brown said.
The event was very personal for Rep. Allen West, R-FL, who also spoke at the ceremony, calling the men "giants" for their honor and integrity.
“They were giants because of their commitment to a country that had not yet committed to them,” he said.
West comes from a military background. Both his father and brother served in the military, and he is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
“I first learned of these giants as a young boy growing up in Atlanta, Ga., listening to the stories of dark green Marines… their stories made me proud,” West recalled.
House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the special medal presentation.
The medal will be on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia. The Marines received bronze replicas.
About 500 of the Montford Poin Marines are still alive today.