By MEGAN GOODSON and KEVIN COUGHLIN
Sometimes, good things come to those who wait.
Like 94-year-old Ryland Anderson of Morris Township. On Sunday he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service with the first African American Marines in World War II.
Anderson beamed as Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty presented him with the highest honor bestowed to U.S. civilians by Congress, at Morristown’s Calvary Baptist Church, where Anderson is a former chairman of the board.
As Anderson stood up and held the gleaming medallion, the room erupted with applause. Almost the entire congregation had come to see him following its Palm Sunday service.
“It’s wonderful!” he said after the ceremony.
Anderson, who still lives independently, was a “Montford Point Marine,” a reference to the segregated Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville, N.C., where black Marines were trained before being sent to fight on Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa and Guam during World War II.
Anderson served on Guam, where Montford Pointers patrolled the jungle for Japanese soldiers who attempted sabotage missions after U.S. forces secured the island.
Now a Marines support facility, Montford Point Camp was renamed Camp Johnson in 1974 after a legendary master sergeant major, Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson. A movie about the place is in the works, said Master Gunnery Sgt. (ret’d.) Joseph Geeter III, an adviser to the project.
Video: Honoring the bravery of the Montford Point Marines
‘VERY MUCH A MARINE’
The Congressional Gold Medal “honors selfless service and sacrifice,” Geeter said. It’s awarded to individuals whose impact on American history and culture is likely to be felt far into the future.
Congress authorized the Montford Point medals, and then-President Obama signed the awards into law in November 2011. Many of the veterans were honored at the Capitol in 2012.
“The Montford Point Marines rode in the back of troop trains, ate at separate lunch counters, and used different bathrooms. They were trained to fight injustice overseas, meanwhile they suffered discrimination every day,” then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at the time.
The Montford Point Marine Association has continued searching for living Montford Pointers and their families to ensure they get their medals.
About 400 remain from the 20,000 African American Marines who trained at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949, said Geeter, who brought Anderson’s medal to Morristown.
Friends of Anderson were thrilled that he finally got it.
“He’s very much a Marine. He probably might be able to still wear his uniform, though I have no idea where it is,” said Geri Blanchard, a longtime friend of the widower.
Blanchard praised Anderson, former owner of Anderson’s Texaco on Ridgedale Avenue, for his “very moral approach to life” and his devotion to the church.
Bud and Kim Murphy of Murphy’s Garage in Morristown played a key role in ensuring Anderson was recognized.
Anderson, a former mechanic, likes to visit their shop to sit and chat, explained Kim Murphy, mother of a Marine.
After Anderson revealed his military background, Kim Murphy noticed an online posting about the death of a Montford Pointer. The article mentioned a special medal; Murphy investigated, and started making calls on Anderson’s behalf.
“He’s probably not like anyone you’ve ever met. The man is just amazing,” said Murphy, marveling that this “wonderful gentleman,” a kind and knowledgeable nonagenarian, still drives himself to the supermarket, lifts weights and rides a stationery bicycle.
‘HE NEVER BRAGGED’
Anderson’s family joined the festivities on Sunday.
“This was a surprise to me,” said Anderson’s sister-in-law, Amy Anderson, who attended the ceremony with Anderson’s niece Charlene Anderson, and nephews Walter and Brad Anderson.
“He never bragged,” said Charlene Anderson.
That held true even on this grand and long overdue day.
Ryland Anderson enlisted after graduating from Morristown High School in 1942 because, he said, President Roosevelt had just “opened the door for blacks” — and because he always wanted to be a Marine.
“It’s one of the elite groups, one of the last groups to desegregate. I wanted to take the challenge. I went by myself, I came back by myself.”
He considers himself just like millions of others who served.
“I did what I had to do,” Anderson said .
WORDS TO LIVE BY: RYLAND ANDERSON’S REGIMEN FOR LONGEVITY
“I don’t have a secret. I just live. I want to live!”
“I’m the same every day. I make my days good!”
“You don’t have to wake up in the morning. Just do it! Do it, do it! Don’t try. Do it.”
What the Marines taught him:
“Discipline. You gotta discipline yourself, in every aspect. Be accountable. You need that to be anything.”