NAS MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - In the 1940s, African American men were given the chance to join the Marines, but racial tensions were high and those men had to complete training at a segregated camp in Montfort Point, North Carolina. The group was called the 'Montfort Point Marines'.
Marine CPL Vonzia James Rigsby, 98, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service during World War II in a ceremony Oct. 22, 2019, at Meridian Naval Air Station. (Source: WTOK-TV)
98-year-old Corporal Vonzia Rigsby, who now lives in Jasper County, is one of the thousands of men who trained at Montford Point. Rigsby was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Tuesday for his service in a ceremony held at Meridian Naval Air Station.
"When I said, 'Well, Dad, the Marine Corps would like to give you a Congressional Gold Medal, he was shocked,” said Rigsby’s daughter, Deborah Rigsby. “It's heartwarming for him."
The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest honors given by Congress.
Leaders including Sen. Roger Wicker, Cong. Michael Guest and President Donald Trump expressed their appreciation to Rigsby through letters.
Members of the Montford Point Association now gather to carry the legacy of the Marines who trained at Montford Point.
Several members traveled from near and far to be a part of Tuesday’s ceremony including the 27th National President of the association, Dr. James T. Averhart, who says Rigsby is part of a group who had to fight for the right to be a Marine.
"This is not just black history or Marine Corps history; this is American history,” said Dr. Averhart. “The world needs to know of the Montford Point Marines."
Applause filled the room as Rigsby received his medal, a moment his daughter says the entire family will remember forever.
"To see people come together to honor him today, it's overwhelming,” said Rigsby. “It was beautiful. I know that he is going to cherish this."
During his time in the Marines, Corporal Rigsby served in Hawaii and Japan. Rigsby was honorably discharged as corporal in 1946.