FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - The senior citizens at the Handley Meadowbrook Community Center know Alcee Chriss as the man who calls raffles and bingo and volunteers to help out with projects like the food bank. But recently, they found out Chriss is living history.
"I was one of the first Afro-Americans in the Marines," Chriss said.
The now 94-year-old was in the first group of African-Americans allowed to join the Marines in 1942 under an order signed by President Roosevelt. But, once Chriss and his friends arrived at Camp Lejeune, they were segregated to a camp full of huts called Montford Point.
"We got to the camp and we saw the little huts and it was near a swamp and we was surprised to see that," the nonagenarian recalled.
"On Camp Lejeune where the whites were, they was in brick barracks. And the only time we could go over there was when we had a white Marine with us."
Conditions outside of the base camp were also challenging. "We'd go on liberty and go in the neighborhood and when we were out there, 'Ain't no such thing as a black Marine.' We had trouble going on liberty in our own town."
From Guam, where Chriss served, to Okinawa where the black Marines joined the battle, the Montford Point Marines proved their worth.
"That's what did it," Chriss said emphatically. "We persevered during all the disturbance. Now we had officers who were betting that after the war they were going to forget about black Marines, that we would disappear. But we persevered!"
The integrated Marine Corps didn't disappear. But it took 70 years before the Montford Point Marines were recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor.
The seniors at the community center learned their bingo caller helped changed The Corps forever.
Like he did on the field of combat and now at the senior center, Chriss advises people to just do the very best they can. "If you do your job, somebody from somewhere or something is going to benefit from the small job -- you think -- you're doing."
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