Local WWII Veteran honored with Congressional Gold Medal
WALKER COUNTY, GA (WRCB) -- A local World War Two veteran is being honored by the U.S. government for his service to our country.
The Walker County native was honored Saturday with the Congressional Gold Medal. He was one of the First African American men to be in the Marine Corps.
Surrounded by his family and friends, 90-year-old Willie Haslerig accepted his high honor. He says he was just doing his part to serve his country. "I never felt so proud to be a marine and until I got this honor," he said.
Haslerig joined the U.S. Marine Corps in may of 1945 as one of the Montford Point Marines. In 1942, President Roosevelt created the opportunity for black men to be recruited into the Marine Corps.
But the men were not sent to the traditional boot camps. African American Marine recruits, like Willie, were segregated and assigned to basic training at Montford Point in North Carolina, working under less than desirable conditions.
"When I was a Marine I was just doing my duty as a citizen in the service and just doing my part. I never thought that it would come to this," says Haslerig.
More than 60 years later, he is being recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal. "It's really hard to think you could go through all that and still have optimism about freedom in the United States and he truly believes that until this day," says Willie's daughter, Joyce Harrison.
Joyce says she cannot be more proud. "He is the best example of what America is all about. He stands very tall, strong, and that whole principle about what our values are in the United States of America. He's a shining example."
"It's hard to explain. It's such a great day," says Haslerig.
With his humble attitude, Willie offers some simple words of advice. "Whatever do, do your best."
Willie has lived true to those words, having a lasting impact on his community.
The Chickamauga native worked with the first black Boy Scout troop there. He is also is the founder of the Family Crisis Center for Chattooga, Catoosa, Dade and Walker Counties.