An East Tennessee Marine who served in a groundbreaking unit was left out of a ceremony honoring his fellow Montford Point Marines with one of the nation's highest awards.
"If I hadn't seen it on television I wouldn't have known about it," said Mr. Albert Winton recalling a story he happened to catch on the evening news this past summer.
"His unit got recognized in the summertime and he deserves that recognition too," said Pete Prins of Victorian Square Assisted Living.
The executive director at Mr. Winton's nursing home in Rockwood saw the same story. The video features members of Congress bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal on America's first black Marine unit. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized it back in the early 1940s. The Montford Point Marines helped break the color barrier in the military. Despite facing discrimination even in uniform, of the 19,000 who served, close to 13,000 saw combat.
Mr. Winton served in the South Pacific at the tail end of World War II. But almost 70 years after his service, Mr. Winton failed to receive an invitation to that historic ceremony because his military records were missing.
"I said 'they're not going to do anything. If we weren't there at the ceremony' I said, 'they're not going to give us anything.' He (Mr. Prins) said, 'we'll see,'" said Mr. Winton.
It took around two months for the Fed-Ex package to show up. Thanks to the efforts of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker's office and Marine Archives researchers a stack of Mr. Winton's misplaced military records proved that he was indeed a member of the Montford Point Marines. Senator Bob Corker offered these words in his note to Mr. Winton.
Your sacrifices and service represent the absolute best our country has to offer.
Mr. Winton did not need the evidence. The 85-year-old former Marine has his memories, pictures, and can readily recite the number of years, months and days he served in the Marines.
"Five years, four months, and 28 days," said the East Tennessee native.
A few weeks after that packet of records showed up, Mr. Winton received an award long overdue for his service. Many- Bears Grinder, Tennessee's Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, presented a replica Congressional Gold Medal at a small ceremony inside Mr. Winton's assisted living center in Rockwood.
"We owe you such a debt of gratitude," said Commissioner Grinder.