02/11/08 — Duplin Historical Society honors black veterans

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Duplin Historical Society honors black veterans

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on February 11, 2008 1:45 PM

ROSE HILL -- The Duplin County Historical Society observed Black History Month on Feb. 2 by honoring two men for their pioneering careers in the United States military.

Sgt. 1st class Gordon A. Humphrey, a retired Army veteran from Kenansville, and Master Gunnery Sgt. Joel E. Williams, a retired Marine veteran from Beulaville were recognized for their accomplishments,

Humphrey was drafted into the Army in 1950 and retired in 1972. A native of Onslow County, he has been a resident of Duplin County since 1961. Officials at the event said Humphrey is believed to be the first black man from Duplin County to complete a military career. In 1956, he completed basic airborne training at the age of 28, earned his jump wings, and joined the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, eventually breaking his neck while jumping over France. He later served two tours of duty in Korea and two in Vietnam.

Williams was drafted into the Marine Corps in 1952 and retired in 1982. A native of Arkansas, he has been a resident of Duplin County since 1963. Society officials said Williams is believed to be the first black man from Duplin County to attain the highest enlisted rank (E-9) during his a military career. He served three tours of duty in Japan and one in Vietnam.

The Historical Society honored these men further by presenting to each of them its Distinguished Service Award, the first time the award had been presented by the organization.

The guest speaker for the event was Dr. Melton McLaurin, emeritus professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, who discussed the history of the racial policies of the U.S. armed forces.

Society member Stephen Pearsall noted that 1,641 blacks in Duplin registered for the draft in Duplin County in World War I, and 634 black men enlisted in Duplin County during World War II.

Presidents Roosevelt and Truman opened doors for black soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen, McLaurin said. He gave a brief history of the Montford Point Marines, the first Blacks allowed to join the Marine Corps, who trained in Jacksonville from 1943-1949.

The society honored its recording secretary, Delilah Taylor Gomes of Warsaw, for her record of community service. Mrs. Gomes is widely acknowledged for conceiving and organizing the first Martin Luther King Jr. observance in Duplin County and for being the driving force behind its annual celebration. She also received the Distinguished Service Award.