Montford Point Marine gets long-awaited medal

Published 11:30 am Thursday, August 7, 2014

After years of waiting, a Vicksburg Marine received one of the nation’s highest honors.

George Long, who is officially listed as 90 but is actually 87, was presented a Congressional Gold Medal by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran during a ceremony Tuesday at the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Veterans Medical Center in Jackson.

“He was just excited. He started crying,” Long’s daughter Felicia Hawkins said.

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The ceremony had been set for Aug. 10 at the Vicksburg City Hall Annex, but Cochran went ahead with the medal presentation Tuesday during a visit to the VA hospital.

“It’s an honor to present the Congressional Gold Medal to George Long as one of our nation’s distinguished heroes.  At a very young age, Mr. Long volunteered to serve his nation during a turbulent time at home and abroad,” said Cochran, a Navy veteran and vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Long lied about his age and volunteered for the Marine Corps in 1942 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring the military to accept recruits of all races.

Long was assigned to Montford Point, adjacent to Camp Lejeune, N.C

“He talked a lot about the drill instructors like Hashmark Johnson,” said Wardell Wince, who met Long about 40 years ago after his own stint in the Marine Corps.

Montford Point was renamed in Johnson’s honor in 1974, two years after his death.

As part of his World War II service, Long notably served as a guard for Japanese prisoners of war following the Battle of Iwo Jima.

In 2012, surviving Montford Point Marines received a Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Long was unable to attend because of medical issues.

Wince contacted U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson’s office, but never got a response about getting Long’s medal. He mentioned the trouble receiving the medal to Steve Houston, a 22-year Air Force Veteran, who called Cochran’s office in March.

A few months later, the Congressional Gold Medal arrived at the senator’s Jackson office.

“I really didn’t know Mr. Long when Wardell approached me. If somebody asks me to do something I’m going to do it and I’m going to finish it My training in the Air Force set me up for that,” Houston said. “At the end of this whole process, Mr. Long is my Dad now.”

Approximately 20,000 African-American Marines received basic training at Montford Point, before the Marine Corps became fully integrated in 1949.  Of those, about 13,000 would serve overseas. Many were the first African-American Marines to see action in World War II, notably at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Mariana Islands.

Long remained in the VA Medical Center in Jackson Wednesday night, but was recovering and had started physical therapy, his daughter said.