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By Erin Smith

One Bladen County resident has been bestowed with a Congressional Gold Medal for his service to his country as a former Montford Point Marine. The order for the award was signed by former President Barack Obama.

The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to Gunnery Sgt. Henry Grange during a ceremony for the Montford Point Marine Memorial, which was held at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville in July. Grange had the distinction of being the only living Montford Point Marine who attended the ceremony.

When asked about receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, Grange smiled and replied, “It didn’t really shock me or anything. When I first enlisted, I didn’t know what would happen.”

Grange said it all began when the Marine Corps began to allow black men to enlist in 1942 through 1949. During that period, approximately 20,000 African-Americans enlisted and trained at a camp located at Montford Point, N.C. He said those first African-American soldiers became known as the Montford Point Marines.

“In 1949 it (the Marine Corps) was integrated,” said Grange.

He explained that he didn’t initially intend to enlist in the Marine Corps. Grange said his mind was set on joining the Navy.

“My main reason for enlisting was to get off the farm and to see the world,” said Grange.

He said the day he traveled to Wilmington to the recruiting office, the Navy recruiter was not in. Grange said the Marine Corps recruiter was located across the hall from the Navy recruiter and struck up a conversation. Grange said, the Marine Corps recruiter told him to take a test and see how he performed.

Grange said he took the test, and the recruiter sent him to Raleigh for a physical. Following the physical, Grange said he was put on a bus and was taken to Wilson, Goldsboro, New Bern, Kinston, and then to Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville. Grange said the driver of the bus dropped him at the main gate, and he had to walk to another gate in front of a “Mess Hall” (cafeteria). Grange said this gate was where he met Sgt. Hough and had his first encounter with military life.

He said following his encounter with Sgt. Hough, he met the drill instructor who would be responsible for training the men during their time in boot camp.

“The Drill Instructors would have you all of the time. There was no peace until you graduated,” said Grange of his stay in boot camp.

He said during his boot camp experience, the troops had to run everywhere they would go at the camp. Grange said the Drill Instructors would use insults to try to break the troops down mentally. He said any recruit who failed to complete their tasks were sent home.

“It was tough. I (at that time) thought the way the Marine Corps was run was crazy,” said Grange.

He said he managed to complete all of the tasks and requirements put before him, and he graduated from boot camp. Grange said following boot camp he boarded a troop train to Norfolk, VA. At Norfolk, he boarded a boat and traveled to San Francisco, Hawaii, China, Australia, Guam and Sai Pan. After returning home 11 months later, he joined the Marine Corps Forces Reserves until the Korean War began. Grange said he moved back to the Marine Corps and remained in service for 19 more years.

Grange said his favorite duty station was Quantico, Virginia.

While in the service, Grange earned the following medals: the United Nations Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct 5 Stars, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Service Medal 2 Stars, and Vietnamese Campaign Medal with Device, and Expert Rifleman.

His daughter, Melba Grange, said that growing up, the Marine Corps provided a good life for her family.

“I used to love to sit on the steps and see my father coming up the steps,” said Grange. She recalled how she was not allowed to handle his boots because they were “spit shined.”

She recalled how there were many places they traveled and many friendships which were made over the years.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Melba Grange.