SoCal family of Montford Point Marine receives Congressional Gold Medal as call to action continues

Corporal Arnold Anthony Smith was part of the trailblazing group whose story is often untold, and therefore, unknown.

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Friday, December 9, 2022
SoCal family of Montford Point Marine gets Congressional Gold Medal
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There's an urgent effort to find thousands of the first Black U.S. Marines or their families. They are supposed to receive a Congressional Gold Medal for their service, but out 20,000, the vast majority have not been found.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- There's an urgent effort to find thousands of the first Black U.S. Marines or their families. They are supposed to receive a Congressional Gold Medal for their service, but out of 20,000, the vast majority have not been found.

Sonia Smith Kang was scrolling through Facebook when she stumbled upon a story that's personal.

"From ABC, Akilah Davis did a report on the 80th anniversary of the Monford Point Marines," Smith Kang recalled.

Her grandfather, Corporal Arnold Anthony Smith, was part of the trailblazing group whose story is often untold, and therefore, unknown.

They're the first African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. They trained at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina between 1942-1949 in a segregated section of Camp Lejeune.

"At the end, it said 'If you are a family member of a Monford Point Marine, click here,' I would say within a week, I had two phone calls from folks from the different chapters of the Montford Point Marine Association," said Smith Kang.

She's taking the baton from her father, Arnold Anthony Smith Jr., who also served in the military, following in his father's footsteps.

"I didn't find out about my dad until I went up into the attic one day and I opened up a trunk, and there was a wool green Marine uniform, and it's like, where did this come from? But I was too young. He did talk about it," said Smith Kang.

Her father went on to become a New York City police office after serving in the Pacific Theater in World War II and spoke little of his service. But there's one story told against the backdrop of Jim Crow that stands out to his family.

"They were getting shipped overseas and he wanted to go to a Catholic church, and even though he was in full dress Marine uniform, he was unable to enter," said Smith Kang. "They wouldn't allow him to enter the church to pray before he departed."

With the help of the Montford Point Marine Association, they've pieced together and preserved more of his story.

"It was like opening up a treasure trove of just history," said Smith Kang. "I have children that are his age when he enlisted so to see the documents of what he did and where he went, where he was stationed-- it was beautiful."

"It's overdue that this group of men get the recognition that they that they deserve," said Roman Anthony Smith, grandson of Corporal Arnold Anthony Smith.

A decade after Arnold Anthony Smith Jr. first got the ball rolling, the Monford Point Marine Association delivered a long-awaited recognition at their Marine Corps birthday celebration this year. They presented the Smith family with a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.

"This moment is not just for us. It's for all those who paved the way for all of us to be here today," said Smith Kang. "I know that he would be extraordinarily pleased about this event because he took a great deal of pride in his service in the military," said David Smith about his father.

Finding the remaining Montford Point Marines or their families is a challenging task as records are incomplete.

"Most of the original Montford Pointers are gone now. I'm 95 years old and we are far and few between these days," said First Sergeant William McDowell USMC, Retired.

"One of the things that these Marines did was not talk about it," said Sergeant Major Charles Cook Jr. USMC, Retired. "Their tour duties were pretty traumatic, and so, a lot of their families didn't even know."

The ABC Owned Television Stations documentary, "Our America: Mission Montford Point" shares their origin story in their words and aims to reach more families like the family of Corporal Arnold Anthony Smith.

"We hope that by telling our story, we're able to reach out to those, the 18,000 that are still waiting for their recognition. So tonight, we do it for my grandfather, but also for others," said Smith Kang.