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Farmington

A 90-year-old veteran was honored Tuesday more than 70 years after becoming one of the first African-Americans to join the U.S. Marines.

A smiling John Willie Jordan of Farmington — on a walker and proudly sporting his original green military campaign hat — was presented with a Congressional Gold Medal by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

The medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, Peters noted as he handed the boxed medal to Jordan in a ceremony in the basement of the Groves-Walker American-Legion Post 346 on Grand River.

“I thought I had been forgotten,” Jordan said after the ceremony, adding he had unfortunately lost track of many of his fellow Marines in recent years.

“I don’t think any of them are around anymore ... I don’t know if they are alive or dead.”

Between 1942 and 1949 about 20,000 African-Americans, such as Jordan, trained at Camp Montford Point, a segregated facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina, outside Camp Lejeune where only the white recruits were allowed to train and live. African-American recruits were not permitted to even visit Camp Lejeune without a white Marine escort.

In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an order abolishing racial discrimination in the armed forces which eventually led to the end of segregation in the services.

Jordan’s daughter, Beverly Jordan Murphy, of Stamford, Connecticut, and a son, Tracy Jordan of Detroit, stood beaming nearby at their father as he was congratulated, photographed and interviewed.

As they tell it, Jordan exemplifies the Marine Corps. motto semper fi — short for the Latin expression semper fidelis for “always faithful” or “always loyal.”

“I’m really proud of him,” said Murphy, who said her heart “was pounding with excitement” for her father. “Unfortunately, people have erroneous ideas how black citizens served our country,” she said. “He was not in combat but he trained and was ready along with others.

“Growing up I remember him always telling me about how he was a Marine — even when the TV show ‘Gomer Pyle’ came on,” she said.

Her father recalled he was scheduled to graduate from high school in Flint when he was called up for military service and chose the Marines, “because there were no blacks there ... ”

The Marines were the last branch of the military to accept African-Americans and only did after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order in 1941 outlawing discriminatory hiring practices for government agencies.

African-American recruits reported to Camp Montford Point before they were deployed. Jordan eventually was stationed in Hawaii where his job included aircraft maintenance. While Jordan never was in battle he remained stationed there and was honorably discharged May 11, 1946.

Jordan returned to Flint, obtained his high school degree and went to work in the auto plants as a member of the United Auto Workers, first in Flint and then at Cadillac Motor Division in Detroit, where he retired after 31 years.

Tracy Jordan noted how “blacks have served in the military in every single war dating back to the French-Indian wars.”

“I was shown a photograph of him when he was in (the Marines), at the age of 19,” he said. “I nearly dropped it when I saw how much we look like each other. We are just very, very proud today.”

Peters said Jordan and others had to train as hard or harder than their white counterparts while being asked to serve their country.

“He was among the trailblazers,” summed up Peters. “They trained, they fought bigotry and discrimination ... and our nation owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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