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First African American US Marine receives Congressional Gold Medal



First African American Us Marine William coffer

First African American US Marine, William Coffer finally gets an award for being one of the first African Americans to enlist in the US Marine. The Congressional Gold Medal award comes 70 years after Coffer’s service to the United States as a mark of honor.


According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, eighty-nine-year-old William Coffer Jr. joined the US Marine Corp, North Carolina in 1948 at age 18. With training completed at the Montford Point Camp, he officially became a US Marine Corp, “fighting for the right to fight”. Coffer, however, sees the Montford Pointer motto as meaning, “fighting for the right to die for what you believe”.

congressional gold medal

After his training, Coffer was immediately drafted to Korea to serve the US Marines. And there he remained for two years, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant.


President of the Montford Point Marine Association in Chicago, Sharon Stokes-Parry expresses excitement at the long-awaited award ceremony.  Stokes-Parry explains that joining the US Marines in the 1940s was a major challenge considering the issue of racial division. A total of 20,000 African American Marines trained at the Montford Point Camp from 1942 to 1949 which included Coffer. Most of the African American troops were, however, made to do the menial jobs, serving as stewards and cooks.


The Congressional Gold Medal was presented on Sunday, August 18 at the Great Galilee Baptist Church, North Teutonia Avenue, Milwaukee. The award is one of US highest civilian award for exceptional service; “national appreciation for distinguished achievement and contributions”. It is a congressional award given by the US Congress since the American Revolution.

Upon completion of his service to the United States, Coffer obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Marquette University. He also received an associate degree in Accounting from the Milwaukee Area Technical College. Coffer moved on with his life and got married in 1957 to Yvonne for another 55 years. The veteran’s career led to his overseeing 2,500 housing units as Manager of the Milwaukee Housing Authority in 1971.


As he turns 90, Coffer still puts his energy to serving humanity in his involvement in his church and community in Milwaukee. The event had family, friends and other veterans in attendance in celebrating one of the history makers.


Milwaukee veteran, William Coffer says, ‘The father of the universe smiles on the United States of America, don’t let anyone take away your joy”. Coffer reiterated his joy in serving his country as a Marine. He prays and wishes other Marines coming afterward would serve like him, with all their hearts.


Other veterans present the event; like Larry Jones says, “I think it’s a great victory for African Americans. It’s a proud day, not just for him, but for all of us who have served in the Marine Corps as African Americans. There should be no segregation. No black; no white. We are a band of brothers”.

congressional gold medal

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the passing of former South African President Nelson Mandela, in the James S. Brady Briefing Room of the White House, Dec. 5, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Montford Point Marine Association has since 2011 issued out the Congressional award. President Barak Obama has presented a total of 365 congressional awards to Montford Pointers Marines. And since then the association has been seeking out other marines yet to be awarded like William Coffer.


A fire incidence led to the loss of the records of African Americans who served the Marines. Therefore, Stokes-Parry requests for information from anyone with knowledge of any marine yet to receive the congressional award. She states the award is still open for any yet to be identified marine to receive the award, dead or alive. “It’s not just African American History, it’s not just military history…this is the history of America,” says Stokes-Parry.


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