JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- They helped integrate the U.S. military and on Friday families of Montford Point Marines gathered as they were honored for their service.
The Montford Point Marine Association credits the ABC Owned Television Stations' call to action for helping produce the largest group to receive replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal since 2012. The storytelling reached people around the world who are related to Montford Point Marines, the first Black recruits to join the Marine Corps.
Between 1942 and 1949, these 20,000 men trained at Camp Montford Point, a segregated section of Camp Lejeune.
On Friday morning, 54 families gathered at the Montford Point Marine Memorial to honor the veterans who served in the face of racial prejudice and segregation.
The Raging Bulls flew over the ceremony as a show of deep respect.
"They forced people to see the content of their character, not the color of their skin," said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein.
As many have passed away, their legacies live on.
Fayetteville native Major Aaron Lee flew in from Germany to accept the medal on behalf of his grandfather who passed away before his grandson could follow in his footsteps of service.
"I've served multiple deployments in Afghanistan. I thought about him every deployment working with Marines when I transferred over to the U.S. Army. It felt like he was always there," he said.
A Durham family accepted the award on behalf of their uncle and father. They all wore Carolina Blue, which was his favorite color.
"I wish he could be here to accept it himself," said Cheryl Gilmer.
Gilmer's brother cried tears of joy.
"I'm just happy for him to get this high honor. It's long overdue," he said.
The iconic statue at the Montford Point Marine Memorial is a reminder of the fighter spirit of these heroes. It's something Wake Forest resident Lance Roller says puts him at a loss for words.
"North Carolina, Jim Crow laws and not really being appreciated, but yet still wanting to fight for the country and enduring," said Roller. "He was a bad dude."
These brave men were all true pioneers who collectively helped pave the way for all men and women to serve honorably in the Marine Corps.
Governor Cooper declared August 25th as Montford Point Marine Day.
It's a day these families will never forget.