DETROIT (WXYZ) - This week’s Detroit 20/20 Person of the Week is a man who has dedicated his life to serving others; first by serving the country as a United States Marine and now by serving the very Marines who paved the way for not only himself but every other African American Marine who would follow.
CLICK HERE for more information on the Annual Heritage Military Banquet.
"The Montford Point Marines were America's first black recruits to be inducted into the United States Marine Corps."
Robert Middleton is an expert when it comes to America’s first African American Marines. He the President Montford Point Marines of America as well as the Commanding Officer of the Detroit Chapter.
"They were rejected and they were despised. We were a nation that was divided that never intended for us to wear this uniform."
They're so named because of the base where they trained; Camp Montford Point, North Carolina.
"Even after they were trained and ready for war; at a segregated training facility they were harassed and despised and some of them were even beaten."
African American Marines trained exclusively on Camp Montford Point from 1942 to 1949 when the Marine Corps became integrated. Not long after that, a young Robert Middleton found his calling.
"I remember being 5-years-old and seeing a black Marine wearing that uniform with that red NCO stripe running down his blue trousers and I said to myself, 'I want to be one of him!"
That's exactly what he did; serving multiple tours of duty in Vietnam and two additional years in the reserves.
"I'd been out of the Marine Corps since 1970. It wasn't until early to mid-2000 before I actually learned about these black Marines and I had a sense of duty; a profound since of duty to preserve their legacy because of the extreme measure that were taken to prevent them from being published in American history."
"It took years of hard work on multiple fronts, involving multiple chapters of Montford Point Marine organizations across the country but in 2012 a day that so many men thought would never come had arrived. America was finally ready to pay tribute to the sacrifice of the Montford Point Marines with Congressional Gold Medals.
“It was surreal to be involved in that whole process. The pentagon had asked me to be a liaison to help identify men from all over the nation and here in the state of Michigan and in Detroit, to identify them and gather pictures or any artifacts they might have and arrange for their travel for their pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to receive their Congressional Gold Medal. It was a 90-degree day. I'll never forget it. Some men checked out of hospice to be there to receive their Congressional Gold Medals. It was just and awesome, awesome experience."
On that day, a tremendous battle had been won but the fight to keep the story of the Montford Point Marines alive is far from over and Robert Middleton continues to lead the way; which is why his is our Detroit 20/20 Person of the Week.
“What a tremendous honor it has been to represent these men in true history. We are what we consider second generation Montford Point Marines. It makes us walk a little taller and feel a lot prouder to be a United States Marine.
Montford Point Marines are living history but unfortunately they wont be here forever. If you'd like to spend time with Michigan’s first African American Marines, tickets are still available for the Annual Heritage Military Banquet. It's taking place Sunday, June 25th at the Shriners Silver Garden Events Center, 24350 Southfield Rd, Southfield MI. CLICK HERE for more information.