BY KATHY KAHN
When America went to war, 23-year-old Charles Robert Fountain, a Nyack High School graduate, wanted to serve his country as a U.S. Marine.
When he and his buddy, David Knight, went down to take the physical, they both passed, but Fountain was left waiting for several months before it was finally agreed to admit him. Reason? Fountain was the wrong color in a country where segregation was still legal in much of the country including the military. His best friend, Knight, was white.
Six months after the U.S. declared war on Japan for the attack of Pearl Harbor, FDR issued an executive order ending race discrimination in the Armed Forces, and Fountain finally received the longed-for call to action.
He was sent to Montfort Point, a decrepit outpost on the perimeter of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, for basic training. The 20,000 men who comprised the Montfort Marines had enlisted in a branch of the service Fountain told his family he felt was “the best of the best.” Fountain was deployed to the South Pacific in 1942 as an anti-aircraft gunner and honorably discharged in 1946.
Fountain was 23 when he was sent to fight in Asian waters. Although segregation was still rampant in the Armed Forces despite FDR’s Exec. Order 8802, “My father fought valiantly and proudly for his country,” said daughter Kim Fountaine. (She spells her name as it originally was when the family came from the Bahamas through Ellis Island.)
After his experience, Fountain wrote a semi-fictional memoir about Montfort and the conditions he and his black comrades endured, “We Earned The Right.” He spent most of his career after he left the Marines as a corrections officer in Sing Sing. Fountain died in Ohio in 2004.
In 2011, former President Barack Obama signed a law giving the Montfort Point Marines the Congressional Gold Medal for faithfully serving their country despite the hardships of segregation and the conditions they endured.
That well-deserved medal was eventually presented to daughter Kim earlier this month in Florida by Lt. General William Beydler, Commander of Marine Corps Forces Central Command.
“My dad is dancing in heaven,” said Fountaine. “He was always proud of his service and said the Marines truly became a ‘band of brothers’ in combat and remained that way after the war. I’m sorry he did not live long enough to receive the medal himself. Less than 500 Montfort Marines are still with us.”
Fountaine, who now lives in Florida, said Fountain’s mother, Mary, and his sister, Beatrice, were “well known in Rockland County. I hope those who remember my family will be happy to hear about the honor bestowed on my father. Semper Fi!”