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William "Buster" Mattingly is not a man who brags about what he has done, but as we have learned, what he has done is worth talking about.
Mattingly entered the Marines Corps in 1944, just a few years after President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring the military to allow anyone to serve regardless of race. That order may have opened the doors for African-Americans, but it did not end the attitudes that had kept many of them out of the service.
Nevertheless, Mattingly enlisted, and he was sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C. - well, almost.
Mattingly was one of 20,000 African-American Marines who trained at Montford Point Camp. According to one description, the camp may have been a stone's throw from Camp Lejeune, but it might as well have been a world away.
As white Marines trained at Camp Lejeune and slept in the barracks at night, Mattingly and other Montford Point Marines slept in tents in what was considered swampland.
The United States was involved in World War II at this time, and Mattingly had a wife, Willie Mae, back home in Lebanon who was pregnant with their first son at the time he enlisted. Yet, Mattingly and his compatriots volunteered to serve at a time when they knew they could be putting themselves in danger. During the war, Mattingly was stationed in the South Pacific, the Philippines and Guam. When he was honorably discharged from the Corps in 1946, he had attained the rank of corporal.
If you ask Mattingly, he probably won't tell you he did anything special, but history suggests otherwise. The Montford Point Marines were recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor presented by the United States Congress, and the individual Marines received bronze replicas of that medal. Mattingly was presented with his medal this past Saturday in Lebanon, fitting for a man who has spent his nearly entire life in this community.
President Barack Obama noted in a written statement that the Montford Point Marines influenced President Harry Truman to desegregate the armed forces in 1948. The next year, Montford Marine Camp was closed.
It's also worth noting that at the time Mattingly joined the Marine Corps, the United States was still 20 years away from passing the Civil Rights Act and 21 years away from approving the Voting Rights Act.
In spite of the discrimination they faced both within the country and even their chosen branch of the military, Mattingly and the rest of the Montford Point Marines continued to live up to the Marine Corps motto: Semper Fidelis.