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WWII Veterans and Congressional Gold Medal Recipients to Be Specially Honored at Long Beach’s Freedom Fest

WWII Veterans and Congressional Gold Medal Recipients to Be Specially Honored at Long Beach’s Freedom Fest
4th of July Ceremony Pays Tribute to Three World War II Veterans from Montford Point

(LONG BEACH, CA; June 13, 2012) – Adding to an evening of salutes to our local military members, two Montford Point Marines and a Navy Hospital Corpsman will be honored by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske and the Long Beach Hometown Heroes Project at Long Beach’s Freedom Fest and Concert on July 4th at Rosie The Riveter Park and Interpretive Center, located on the corner of Conant Street and Clark Avenue. The three WWII veterans are scheduled to receive a Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C. on June 27th.

First Sergeant Mitchell Key, and First Sergeant William (Jack) McDowell were among the first black Marines to enlist and serve in World War II. Navy Hospital Corpsman,
Robert S. Hammond, was a medical technician trained at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital in NY, but later assigned to assist in medical duties at the segregated training facilities at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. As part of the first African American Marine battalions during World War II, these three decorated Long Beach War Veterans were among 20,000 soldiers who trained in segregation at the camp from 1942 to 1949.

“The City of Long Beach is truly honored to have among us three individuals who embody the courage, sacrifice and spirit of the Unites States, and

the entire US military family,” notes Councilwoman Schipske. “At a point when segregation was deeply rooted in our history, these three individuals stood up for what they believed in, defied all odds and fought to fight for our country. They represent a cornerstone of our history that broke down barriers of racial inequality and for which we should be grateful.”

Congressional Gold Medal Honors

All three Long Beach military members will receive
Congressional Gold Medal Honors in Washington D.C on June 27th. The Congressional Gold Medal is bestowed by Congress as the highest civilian award in the United States. The decoration will be awarded to all the Montford Point Marines, living and deceased, for their outstanding deeds and acts of service to the security, prosperity, and national interest of the United States. There will be two ceremonies commemorating the service of the Marines. The first ceremony will take place at the U.S Capital Visitor Center, Washington, DC. This is where the US Congress will recognize the Montford Point Marines for their contributions to the Marine Corps and our nation. There will also be a Commemorative Ceremony the following day at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC that will be attended by current Commandant of the Marine Corps and 4-Star General, James F. Amos.

Montford Point Marine History

The Montford Point Marines history dates back to June 25th, 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802, establishing the Fair Employment Practice Act that began to erase discrimination in the Armed Forces. Shortly thereafter, African Americans were free to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. However, those who enlisted were segregated from other military units, and were sent directly for basic training at Montford Point – a facility next to the white Marine Training Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Approximately 20,000 African American Marines were trained at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949. Conditions at the training camp were extremely poor. White health care personnel would frequently ignore the illnesses of the Marines stationed at the camp - only providing a minimum of services that left many of the servicemen’s ailments untreated. However, it was the African American Navy Corpsmen that remained instrumental in helping establish a medically stable environment by cleaning up swamps around the base and eradicating mosquitoes. The vegetation was cut back and snakes were eliminated. Latrines were constructed properly and safe food services were provided in the mess kitchens.

It was from this training camp that African American Marines were sent overseas to fight in World War II. As the war progressed and situations improved, there began a shift in the conscience of the Marine Corps. By 1945, all drill instructors and many non-commissioned officers at Montford Point were African American.

Montford Point Marine Association

During the summer of 1965, twenty years after World War II, a group of Marine veterans from Philadelphia Pennsylvania organized a national reunion of the remaining Montford Point Marines. Over 400 former and active duty Marines, representing 17 States, attended the reunion in the Adelphia Hotel in downtown Philadelphia.

The great response led to the establishment of the
Montford Point Marine Association (MPMA), a non-profit veteran organization that was founded to memorialize the legacy of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps. The MPMA now proudly boasts 33 active Chapters. The organization supports educational assistance programs, veterans programs, and community services, with an emphasis on improving the social conditions of the growing population of military veterans that are disabled or senior citizens.

Biography - First Sergeant Jack McDowell

Born in Brooklyn NY, First Sergeant Jack McDowell enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II in 1945, where he subsequently trained for combat at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He served in Okinawa in support of the 6th Marine Division, followed by the occupation of Japan, and Northern China.

The First Sergeant was a weapons marksmanship instructor, served with U.S Naval facility security detachments, and with rifle and weapon companies in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Marine Division’s as a Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, Company Gunnery Sergeant, and Company First Sergeant. He also served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and received many medals that included the Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Marine Corps Combat Ribbon, and 16 other awards that included the coveted Congressional Gold Medal. Due to various injuries sustained in combat, First Sergeant McDowell was placed on the disability-retired list in 1968, and permanently retired in 1971. He currently lives in Long Beach, CA.

Biography – Navy Hospital Corpsman Robert S. Hammond

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Navy Corpsman Robert Hammond enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943 at the age of 17. Along with only 22 other African Americans, he was sent to a segregated naval school in Great Lakes, Illinois, where he trained to be a medical technician. He then transferred for further training to the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, but was subjected to mistreatment due to a strict segregation process that had him working in the kitchen. Officers touring the facility noticed his misappropriation of assignment, and quickly moved him to resume his medical education.

He was among one (1) of only seven (7) Black Navy Corpsman assigned to Montford Point. He quickly identified the deteriorated living conditions and worked to improve the camp’s major infrastructure and sanitary problems. His work included directing latrines to flow downstream from the wells, and clearing swamp area to help avoid disease from various insects and creatures living at the facility. Despite the many improvements under his supervision, Mr. Hammond had to leave Montford Point to have an appendectomy and would not return.

His tour of service in World War II included his deployment to Guam in September of 1944, where he reunited with the 51st and 52nd Battalions of the Montford Point Marines. He tended to Marines injured in combat while stationed at the medical dispensary at Camp Wise Naval Base and the Marine Corps dispensary at Barracuda Village. Robert was honorably discharged from the United States Navy in June of 1946.

In 1965, Robert, along with other Montford Point Marine Veterans, founded and established the Los Angeles Chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association. He remained President of the Los Angeles Chapter for more than 12 years. He currently lives in Long Beach, CA.

Biography – First Sergeant Mitchell T. Key

First Sergeant Mitchell Key enlisted in the Marine Corps on January 4th, 1941. After his training at Montford Point, he became a marksmanship instructor and was stationed during World War II at Saipan – the largest island of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. Many of his responsibilities included guarding Japanese prisoners.

Upon his return to the United States, he spent time in New Jersey repairing weapons as an Armorer. He continued this work while assigned for one year in Korea during the Korean War. He became a 1st Sergeant Maintenance Chief during the Vietnam War and was involved in 6 combat unit forays, repairing infield munitions and weapons during intense firefights with enemy forces. Sergeant Key has received many Commendation Medals for Acts of Bravery during his service as a military war veteran.

He moved to Long Beach, CA in 1970, but relocated to Hawaii in 1988. He returned back to Long Beach in 1999, where he currently resides, and was remarried six years ago.

Freedom Fest

The 4th of July Freedom Fest will commence with a flag and military ceremony at 5 pm with the presentation of the colors by the
Millikan Jr. ROTC Color Guard and the singing of the National Anthem and God Bless America by Erma Vernado. Amazing Grace will be played by Bag Pipe Major Scott MacDonald from the Long Beach Police Department, as the names of the 14 Long Beach men who died in Iraq or Afghanistan are read by members of the military services. Honorary speakers include Commander Stephen M. Ruggiero and U.S. Coast Guard Captain Roger LaFerriere. After their speeches, Councilwoman Schipske will honor the pioneering service of the two Long Beach Montford Point Marines and the Navy Corpsman. Shortly after the ceremony ends, guests will be treated to a concert by one of Long Beach’s most well known musical groups, The Emperors.