RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The pews were filled Sunday at First Baptist Church, as Corporal James Putney, a WWII veteran who died in late 2013, was posthumously honored with one of the highest awards in the military: The Montford Point Marine Congressional Gold Medal.
Putney was honored at this church specifically since he once served there as a deacon.
Corporal Putney joined the Marines in 1944 in not only a time of war but in a time of segregation.
"In '42-'49, the Black was in the military, but they were on the backside of Camp Lejeune," said Pink Scales, the Vice President of the Montford Point Marines Triad-Triangle Chapter 38. "In 1949, that's when the black marines started training with the white marines."
Born in November of 1923, Putney's commitment to his country blazed a trail for future marines, like his great-grandson, Keith Chen, who accepted the Medal on behalf of his great-grandfather.
"He opened the pathway for Black Americans like myself to join the Marine Corp," Chen said.
In just two short days, Chen will follow in his great-grandfather's footsteps as a Marine.
Chen said that his great-grandfather rarely talked about his time in the military and was quiet, but when he did speak, he spoke words of wisdom
"I remember, he would tell me a lot of times to hang around people who were only going to benefit you and not bring you down," Chen said. "He said that a lot."
The award has been given to members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Buffalo Soldiers, and the Montford Point Marines.