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Beating the clock

Melissa Topey • Dec 23, 2013 at 8:10 PM

Winfield Finch was a World War II Montford Marine who was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal on Nov. 12.

He died less than a month later.

Finch served as a Montford Marine from 1944-46, when the military was still segregated and “whites only” signs were common throughout America. Lt. Col. Pete McAleer and Sgt. Major Michael Burke presented him with the medal last month.

Talking with them that morning, they said World War II veterans die every day, making tracking down Montford Marines a race against time. Finch died Dec. 10. He was suffering from kidney failure.

The Marines barely beat the clock for him and his family, giving him much-deserved recognition. During World War II, white Marines trained at Parris Island in South Carolina or Camp Pendleton in California, while about 20,000 African American recruits trained at Montford Point Camp, a separate facility at Camp LeJeune, N.C.

They took on the name Montford Marines, and they took on the mission of proving they were as good as any other Marine. In 2011, legislators in Washington voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the surviving Montford Point Marines. President Barack Obama approved the measure.

There were about 900 Montford Marines alive in 2012, the last figure available.

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