A local Marine received the Congressional Gold Medal Monday at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for his service in World War II.
William Harris Jr. of Molokai was among thousands of African American Marines during the 1940s who endured racial discrimination while serving their country.
Harris was among about 20,000 African American Marines trained at Montford Point Camp in Jacksonville, N.C. He later served in the Pacific.
"These men did not hesitate to fight for their country, even as fairness and equality were merely a dream," said Lt. Col. Carolyn D. Bird.
The Montford Point Marines were the first African Americans recruited into the Marine Corps. But, they were segregated because of the color of their skin.
"We had people from different parts of the country who, if a black came in and sat down at the table with them, they would get up and leave without finishing their meal," said veteran Robert Talmadge.
Talmadge joined the military in 1947 and says African American Marines paved the way for racial diversity outside the military.
"When they got out, things were different and they didn't want it to be different," said Talmadge. "This eventually led to integration with the United States faster than it normally would've been accomplished."
Staff Sgt. Byron Moody, a modern day Marine, finds it difficult to imagine the prejudice Harris and his contemporaries had to endure.
"When you're shooting these rounds, when you're fighting the enemy, when you're just making sure they're strapped good, you carry on with the mission day to day. All that other stuff really doesn't matter," said Moody.