Family of WW II Marine from Rankin to celebrate his Congressional Gold Medal
Like thousands of blacks who served in the Marine Corps during World War II, William F. Snooks waited years for well-deserved recognition.
Along with the Tuskegee Airmen, black pilots who flew during the war, the Marines who trained at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., under white officers helped break the color barrier in the armed forces.
Congress in 2011 agreed to grant them the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor it bestows, “for outstanding perseverance and courage that inspired social change.” An illness kept Snooks from attending a November ceremony honoring 400 with their medals.
Instead his medal arrived unceremoniously by mail.
His wife of 49 years has arranged a ceremonial presentation on Saturday in Penn Hills.
“I didn’t want him to be left out,” Elaine Snooks said. “He missed D.C. He would have loved that.”
Snooks, 88, of Rankin didn’t think the color of his skin would be a barrier to serving his country after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But his mother kept him home.
“She took me back down and made them tear up (the enlistment papers),” he said. “She said I had a year of high school left.”
He later joined the Marines and fought in the South Pacific, earning him the honor that friends and family will celebrate at the Comfort Inn Conference Center.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Snooks, one of the nearly 20,000 black Marines between 1942 and 1949.
Longtime friend and fellow Marine, Joe Cioppa, 73, of Rankin will present his medal.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Cioppa said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Snooks served with the 110th Regiment, 30th Battalion, from 1943-46 and took part in fierce fighting in the South Pacific, in Guam, the Mariana Islands and Iwo Jima.
Black Marines were among troops that landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
“There were so many dying there … so many wounded,” Snooks said. “We weren’t even on the front lines.”
In fact, his all-black unit wasn’t considered a combat unit until those ahead of them fell.
“We carried the ammunition,” Snooks said. “We weren’t called out as full troops until they couldn’t help it.”
President Truman ended segregation in the armed forces in July 1948. A year later, the Montford Marine Camp was deactivated.
More than the excitement of receiving his medal, Snooks anticipates seeing those he loves this weekend.
“All the excitement got taken out of me at a young age,” he said. “I”ll be looking forward to seeing friends and family.”
Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.