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Six decades after serving a nation that refused to let him fight because of the color of his skin, former U.S. Marine Albert Winton Sr. finally got some well-deserved recognition last week.
He was awarded a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.
A packed house at Victorian Square Assisted Living in Rockwood gave Winton a standing ovation as he received the nation’s highest non-combat award last Thursday night from Tennessee Commissioner of Veteran Affairs Many-Bears Grinder.
Winton was a member of the Montford Point (N.C.) Marines, a World War II/Korean Conflict era unit made up exclusively of African Americans and segregated from the rest of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Montford Point Marines were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on June 27 during a ceremony at Washington, D.C.
Pete Prins, executive director of Victorian Square where Winton currently resides, said a television newscast of the June 27 ceremony got Winton’s attention.
“He was watching and said, ‘Those are my guys’,” Prins recalled.
Almost immediately, staff members at Victorian Square sprang into action to help Winton get a replica of the medal.
Prins said the staff of U.S. Senator Bob Corker’s Chattanooga office was instrumental in the process.
Winton was born on July 7, 1927 in a log cabin at Martel in Loudon County.
He was drafted by the U.S. Army as a young man, but chose to join the Marines in 1946 after a conversation with his brother George.
“I just wanted to be in a group that was really rough and tough,” said Winton, who spent most of his five-year tour of duty in the Pacific pulling guard duty, delivering supplies and cleaning up unexploded ordnance.
“I spent time on Guam twice,” said Winton.
“In the beginning they didn’t let us do anything,” he added. “President (Franklin Delano) Roosevelt was the one that signed the order to put (African Americans) in the Marines. Even the Marines didn’t want us. We didn’t get to fight unless somebody shot at us.
“Boy, it was really rough. If you want to use the expression, it was hell.”
Winton rose to the rank of corporal before he left the Marines.
“I had passed the sergeant test, but they didn’t give me the rank,” he said.
“I can’t find the words to say ... it felt like you were just an outcast and wasn’t recognized at all.
There was so much segregation and everything. Places wouldn’t let us come in and eat, even though we had our uniforms on.
“Some Marine bases didn’t want to let us come in and use their (post exchange).”
Following his military service, Winton returned to Tennessee and attended Knoxville College.
He graduated in 1956 and worked a variety of jobs over the years including Miller’s Department Store in Knoxville, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Yale Lock Co., Allied Chemical, Dempster Co. and Walmart.
Winton now resides at Victorian Square, where his daughter Lillian of Rockwood visits him frequently.
He also has a son Albert, Jr., who lives in Missouri and a grandson, David, who is a musician in St. Louis.