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Spotsylvania man, others who were part of Marine Corps' first black unit, to be honored by Congress
New recruits drill at Montford Point, the first training camp established for black U.S. Marines. The first 1,200 volunteers enlisted in 1942.
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By RUSTY DENNEN
Lawrence "Reggie" Lucas will get
And not just any medal. Lucas, 88, of Spotsylvania County and other surviving Montford Point Marines, will receive replica Congressional Gold Medals June 27 in a ceremony at the Capitol.
The gold medal is Congress' highest civilian honor. George Washington was among the award's recipients.
President Obama signed a bill last year authorizing the award to Lucas and his comrades, who made up the first all-black unit in the Marine Corps.
"I am looking forward to it," said Lucas, who lives off Smith Station Road. The Marines, who trained at Montford Point Camp between 1942 and 1949, got little recognition during and after the war.
Lucas attended a parade and reception in Washington, D.C., last year honoring the unit. But the ceremony later this month is a much bigger deal.
His daughter, Cheryl Hepburn of Greensboro, N.C., and her husband, Marty, are driving him up. Lucas has been ill and cannot drive himself.
"I enjoyed the military, even though, in the beginning when we went in, it was terrible," he said. "But in the end, everybody would say 'We are brothers.' And that carried with me through life, and as I've gotten older."
Lucas was born in Fredericksburg and grew up near the train station. His father and brother were barbers.
"As a kid, I'd go down to Caroline street to shine shoes. The white boys would beat me up and run me home," he said.
He and a buddy would go to a nearby basketball court to play. "We'd be shooting and they'd run me home." He smiled, "I'd go right back the next day and get run home again."
While attending school, he worked at hotels in the late 1930s. His mother died when he was 15 and his father passed away a few years later.
DUTY AND A JOB
He attended Mayfield and Walker-Grant high schools, and Virginia State College for a couple of months after high school. Then he began considering work options.
"When I thought about it, the only opportunity in Fredericksburg was being a teacher, preacher or doctor, and I didn't want to do any of those."
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order beginning the integration of the armed forces. Between 1942 and 1949, some 20,000 black Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, at Camp Lejeune, N.C. According to the Montford Point Marine Association, of that number, about 400 are still living.For more on the unit, visit montford pointmarines.com.
The Marine Corps will host the Montford Point Marines with a reception and parade June 27 at the Marine Barracks in Washington. They will receive bronze replicas of a specially designed Congressional Gold Medal in an invitation-only ceremony at the Capitol Visitor Center at 3 p.m.