CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On Saturday, the National Montford Point Marine Association (NMPMA) Chapter 47 presented the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to the family of Walter Harper Jr. Harper is from Charleston and News was at Chapter 47’s inaugural banquet as one of the nation’s highest civilian awards was presented.

“We are here for the sole purpose to pay tribute to the late Walter Harper,” NMPMA Chapter 47 President Perry S. Jenkins Sr. said.

Harper was one of the original Montford Point Marines. They were the first African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps after President Franklin Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Commission in 1941.

“Unwanted,” retired marine Brenda Warren said, “unvalued, underestimated, unacknowledged. Those were the words associated with the Montford Point Marines when they first came into existence in 1942.”

Recruits trained at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina until the camp was decommissioned in 1949. The Montford Point Marines’ impact was felt immensely over that seven-year span.

“That story would turn to unbeaten spirits,” Warren said, “uncommon valor, unmatched tenacity, unwavering resilience.”

And their influence is just as palpable nearly 75 years later.

“Montford Point Marines made an impact on myself and all the marines that would come after them,” Warren said, “so that we could hold our head high and know that we come from a rich heritage that will not be denied no matter who fails to tell their story.”

Following dinner and the acknowledgment of special guest, Chapter 47 presented Harper’s son with the Congressional Gold Medal for his dad’s devotion to duty and his unwavering commitment to serving his country.

“My father persevered,” Jerry Harper said. “He suffered many indecencies and indignities that should not have been afforded him, but nevertheless, through it all he persevered. Had he lived, tomorrow he would be 99 years of age. This is a timely event.”

The ceremony was held at The Citadel’s Buyer Auditorium and the theme for the banquet was “The Right to Fight.”