CARLSBAD — A loud applause erupted inside the Carlsbad City Council Chambers as Willie E. Marbrey, a retired Master Sergeant of the Marine Corps, accepted his special recognition on Nov 6. Mayor Matt Hall presented Marbrey with a proclamation and was delighted to congratulate Marbrey in person. Recently, Marbrey, a Carlsbad resident, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the most prestigious honor for an American.
The Congressional Gold Medal underscored Marbrey’s early years in the military branch. In 1945, when he enlisted, he was sent to the segregated basic training depot, Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C.
“During this initiation period, black Montford Point Marines endured many hardships and injustices, while serving their country,” Hall said. “Following basic training, Mr. Marbrey was assigned to a Replacement Draft Company and spent many years at Montford Point. He continued on in the Marines for 24 years, serving a tour in Vietnam and at many other duty stations throughout the United States and Japan.”
Previous reports and articles have described how African American soldiers at Montford Point endured severe discrimination, while their living conditions were bleak. Caucasian drill sergeants were relentless with their ridicule and prejudice.
“The drill sergeants weren’t nice, let’s put it that way,” said Marbrey, 85.
Marbrey recalled an experience when he became ill with lesions in his eyes. His camp didn’t have a specialist so he was sent to another place for medical attention. “They sent me to the ‘white camp’ by bus and there was only one other person on that bus,” Marbrey said. “We were halfway inside the base and this young kid came to me and said, ‘(N-word) get in the back of the bus.’” Marbrey continued, “There wasn’t a soul on that bus but just he and I — but I thought about it and said to myself, ‘Anything I am going to do is going to be wrong,’ so I went to the back of that bus.”
Despite the discriminatory hardships, the African American soldiers pushed forward and served their country in pursuit of patriotism. It’s estimated that between the years of 1942 and 1949 well over 20,000 men were stationed and trained at Montford Point.
“Due to the recognized accomplishments of the Montford Point Marines, not only have those individuals been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, our nation’s highest civilian honor, but their history will be taught to future generations of Marines,” Hall said.
Throughout his career, Marbrey was stationed at numerous bases including Quantico, Okinawa, Middle Camp Mt. Fuji, Pearl Harbor, Camp Pendleton, and Da Nang in Vietnam.
Marbrey retired in 1989.
Looking back, Marbrey said, it was the camaraderie “of all us black guys to stick together” that kept them going even through the roughest of times. And today, many of these soldiers still keep in touch and the support for one another remains.
Marbrey said that he hopes the lesson people learn from hearing the Montford Point stories is to be more sincere and kind towards others.
“It’s an honor to give this Congressional Gold Medal recipient this proclamation,” Hall said. “It is men like Mr. Marbrey who helped keep us safe and he truly has earned this gold medal.”