Buffalo veteran served during WWII
In a special ceremony Sunday, Congressman Brian Higgins and members of the United States Marine Corps presented the family of Montford Point Marine William H. Givens Jr. with the Congressional Gold Medal for his service during World War II.
"Sixty-eight years ago, Private First Class Givens was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps, but to say his service was honorable is a great understatement," Higgins said. "Private First Class Givens and his fellow Montford Point Marines were among the most selfless veterans in our country's history, fighting for our nation's freedom at a time when our nation was not recognizing theirs. It is truly our honor to finally present the Givens family with this long-overdue Congressional Gold Medal. May it serve as a lasting symbol of respect and appreciation on behalf of a grateful nation."
Born in 1924 to parents William H. Givens Sr. and Estelle Roberts Givens, William Henry Givens Jr. was the third of four children in the family that lived in Danville, Va., before moving to Buffalo in 1927. He attended Buffalo Public School No. 75 and Hutchinson-Central High School, where he participated in the school band and played for the football team.
On April 23, 1943, at the age of 19, Givens enlisted in the Marine Corps to serve during World War II. He was stationed out of Camp Montford Point and served in the Asiatic Pacific Theater from September 1944 to September 1945.
Upon his return from duty in 1946, Givens went to work as an auto mechanic for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority before his sudden passing in 1979. Givens was survived by four children: Gerald, Sharon, Lorrain and H. Samuel Givens; his siblings, H. Clarice Cox, Walter, Cravane and Raymond; as well as grandchildren and a number of nieces and nephews.
The 1941 Fair Employment Act prohibited racial discrimination by federal agencies, giving African-Americans the right to enlist in the Marine Corps. However, like much of America at the time, military training facilities were segregated. Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C., served as the training site for African-American men eager to serve in the Marines. Over a seven-year period (beginning in 1942), approximately 20,000 African-Americans were trained at the camp, many serving during World War II. In 1949, Montford Point Camp was deactivated and all recruits were trained side-by-side.
Higgins presented the Congressional Gold Medal to Givens' family on April 27 - 68 years and one day after his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. The ceremony was held at First Shiloh Baptist Church in Buffalo, where Givens was baptized and his family is still involved.
In 2011, Higgins co-sponsored H.R. 2477, a bill to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to the Montford Point Marines. The legislation was approved by Congress and signed by President Obama.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. It is awarded to those who have performed an achievement that has impacted American history and culture. Others receiving the medal include, but are not limited to: George Washington in 1776; Rosa Parks in 1999; Pope John Paul II in 2000; the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in 2004; the Tuskegee Airmen in 2006; and the victims of 9/11 in 2011.