A 96-year-old Las Vegas man received a Congressional Gold Medal on Saturday for his service as one of the first Black men in the Marines Corps.
Henry Franklin Jackson II enlisted as a Montford Point Marine in November 1943, and served in the Pacific Ocean until 1946, when he contracted malaria and was honorably discharged as a corporal.
Jackson enlisted about two years after former President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the military. The Marines were the last branch to integrate, and in 1942 the first Black recruits were sent to Montford Point, North Carolina, and were required to build the camp they would be trained at, according to Gary White, incoming president of the Nevada chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association.
“These men distinguished themselves in a very arduous environment, in a very hostile environment for an American,” White said. “But they persevered and they paved the way for all Black men and women and all minorities to follow.”
Master Sgt. Gregory Mintz discovered Jackson was a member of the Montford Point Marines after they met at one of Jackson’s wife’s bowling league games. Mintz teared up Saturday as he got on one knee to present the medal to Jackson at the Leatherneck Club, 4360 Spring Mountain Road.
“It is my honor, it is my privilege and I am proud as hell to present you this Congressional Gold Medal of honor, sir,” Mintz said.
The Marines integrated in 1949, closing the Montford Point camp. Former President Barack Obama declared on Nov. 11, 2011, that all Montford Point Marines would receive the Congressional Gold Medal, according to the House of Representatives website. About 20,000 men were trained at the camp, and White said the medal is the highest honor Congress can give a civilian.
Jackson was born in Chicago in 1925 as the second of seven children. After his discharge in 1946, he worked for 26 years at the Postal Service and for the City of Chicago for 20 years, all while fathering six children. Upon retiring in 1999, Jackson and his wife, Millie Lockhart, moved to Las Vegas where Jackson now gets around on a motorized wheelchair and plays Keno every chance he gets.
“I am really honored for this day,” Jackson said after the ceremony. “Thanks to everyone for being a witness to this great occasion.”