For years – 66 to be exact – Earl Guydon thought little of his military service during World War II.
So much so, that when he initially found out he would receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the country’s highest civilian award, he didn’t plan on traveling to Washington to accept it in person. It wasn’t until his family and two neighbors pleaded with him to go that he changed his mind.
“I thought they could take that medal and keep it,” said Guydon.
The son of an Arkansas sharecropper, Guydon was drafted at the age of 19 as the country remained strongly segregated. He was among the first class of blacks to serve in the Marine Corps after President Franklin Roosevelt desegregated the branch in 1941.
Black marines, however, did not intermingle with their white counterparts.
As nearly 20,000 would between 1942 and 1949, Guydon trained at Montfort Point, a facility built exclusively for blacks in the woods of North Carolina, about 10 miles from Camp Lejeune, where the white marines bunked.
“We had no black officers. All of our officers were white,” said Guydon, who took part in the occupation of Japan at the end of the war.
White officers would travel to Montford strictly for training, returning to Lejeune for meals and rest. On weekends, when trainees left on labor, the black Marines would ride out on the back of trucks, while the white marines would ride in buses.
The experience embittered Guydon. He resented serving a country that still treated blacks like second-class citizens, even as soldiers risking their lives during wartime.
But as he sat in his Germantown living room last week, his wife Shirley nearby, Guydon said he was pleased his family pushed him to attend the ceremony. It was then and only then, that the impact and importance of his time in the Marines – 1943 to 1946 – finally solidified after all those years.
Never in his wildest dreams did he think he’d be honored in such a way before the medal ceremony on the lawn of the Capitol Visitor’s Center.
“I found out that my military service opened the doors for others,” said Guydon, who received the medal from a black general. “Going from feeling like a nobody to a somebody in a day’s time, it was a big thing for me.”
Congress recognized nearly 400 Montfort Point Marines with the award, though not all of them attended the ceremony.
Montford Point closed as an active base in 1949, but over the years, the men who trained there have organized reunion trips. Guydon has never participated, but said that may soon change.
“After this, I will probably be more active in their activities,” he said. “I would like to return and see the place.”