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NC man to be honored for groundbreaking role in Marine Corps

Posted February 19, 2021 7:37 p.m. EST
Updated February 22, 2021 11:10 p.m. EST

— Three-quarters of a century after serving in the Marines, a North Carolina veteran is about to receive a prestigious award.

Samuel Boyd, 93, was a member of the Montford Point Marines, the first Blacks in the Marine Corps.

"I was floored," his son, Derrick Boyd, said of learning about his father being part of the historic group.

A decade ago, President Barack Obama decreed that all Montford Point Marines would be awarded a collective Congressional Gold Medal.

Samuel Boyd is expected to receive a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal this weekend.

Blacks weren't allowed to enlist in the Marines before World War II, but President Franklin Roosevelt signed an order ending racial discrimination in the military.

Black Marine recruits were segregated and trained at Montford Point, near Camp Lejuene.

"They paved the way," said Derrick Boyd, who joined the Marines himself and now serves as a Fayetteville police officer.

"My father was in the Corps, and my heart was just driven to go into the Corps," he said. "It was just something about the Corps that spoke to me, 'Hey, this is where you belong.'"

An 18-year-old Samuel Boyd left his hometown of Belhaven and joined the Marines as the war was ending.

"Matter of fact, the same day he went in is the same day they dropped the [atomic] bomb on Hiroshima," his son said. "He did want to serve."

He served as a military police officer in the Pacific.

But Samuel Boyd didn't talk much about his time in the Marines when he returned to North Carolina.

"He was a very private man from everything I can tell. It wasn't something he wanted to talk about," said Donna Pelham, a professor at Methodist University in Fayetteville and a member of the Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Commission.

Pelham helped Derrick Boyd get the documents together for his father's medal.

"Most of these Marines who went through Montford Point didn't want to talk about it. It wasn't necessarily a pleasant experience for them."

Derrick Boyd learned his father was a Montford Point Marine only after Samuel Boyd suffered a stroke two weeks ago. The son found a military identification card as he tried to get his father admitted to the North Carolina State Veterans Home in Fayetteville.

"That was something to find out – that my pa was actually one of the ones that paved the way," Derrick Boyd said. "[That's] groundbreaking stuff, groundbreaking news."

Between 1942 and 1949, when the military was integrated, about 20,000 Black men became Montford Point Marines. In 2016, a public memorial was dedicated to them at Camp Lejuene.

"They made it through it, and they were glad to make it through, because they had to excel at that time. They couldn't go through and be a failure, if you will," Derrick Boyd said.

"Pop, the day has finally come," he told his father on the phone Friday, showing him a photo of the medal as he stood outside the veterans home.

"He needs to be honored," Pelham said. "He's a hero and a civil rights pioneer."

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