July 11th, 2012
Smith receives Congressional Medal of Honor
Among those celebrating Montford Point Marine Ernest Smith (seated) on July 5, 2012 were, from left: Smith’s grandson Liam Bywater, CSEA Orange County Unit 7900 President William Oliphant, Smith’s daughter Aimee Smith-Bywater, and CSEA Southern Region President Billy Riccaldo.
GOSHEN – Ernest Smith, a longtime Goshen resident who now resides at the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation, was the guest of honor at a reception held July 5, 2012 at the CSEA Orange County Unit 7900 office in celebration of Smith’s new status as a Congressional Gold Medal recipient.
Smith is one of just over 400 remaining veterans who endured segregation when the U.S. Marine Corps first began accepting African-American soldiers in 1942. Smith, who went on to serve in World War II, joined approximately 370 other Montford Point Marines in Washington, D.C. at the end of June to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
“It is long overdue,” Smith said of the acknowledgment of the Montford Point Marines, explaining that the history of groups including the Tuskegee Airmen and Buffalo Soldiers has been more widely documented.
Instead of training at Marine training camps at Parris Island and Camp Pendleton, African-American Marine recruits were sent to Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., where more than 20,000 men were trained before former U.S. President Harry Truman signed an executive order desegregating the military. The camp closed in 1949.
Smith, who is approaching his 90th birthday, went on to attend college on Prince Edward Island in Canada, where he met his future wife, Wanda. They settled into married life in Shanks Village, a community established in Rockland County for returning veterans, before moving to Goshen. Smith, who earned his master’s degree in counseling, worked in the mental health field both in New York City and locally, including working as a psychiatric social worker for the Orange County Department of Mental Health.
Smith and his late wife raised 11 children in Goshen, many of whom have become well-known in their career fields. His daughter Col. Stephanie Smith, is the highest ranking African-American woman currently serving in the U.S. Marine Corps; she has been a driving force in promoting greater awareness of the Montford Point Marines.
“Ernest Smith deserves our recognition, our respect and our thanks because the sacrifices he made as a Montford Point Marine have opened doors for so many people,” said CSEA Orange County Unit President William Oliphant, a Vietnam veteran who said veterans like Smith improved conditions for future generations of servicemen and women. “I’m proud that our CSEA members working at Valley View provide such loving care for Ernest and so many of our county’s veterans. Let’s hope that this long overdue recognition of the Montford Point Marines allows their experiences to become a more widely known part of American history. As the union for county workers, we were humbled to learn of Ernest’s service in the Marines and we’re proud of the public service he provided to our community as a county social worker.”
The Montford Point Marine Association is raising funds to build a Montford Point Marine Memorial in Jacksonville, N.C. For more information or to make a donation, log on to www.mpmamemorial.com.