06/26/2013 02:30 pm ET

Flate Staples, Robert Spencer Receive Congressional Gold Medal As Nation's First Black Marines (VIDEO)

African-American veterans of World War II endured hardships not only on the battlefield, but also while facing severe racial inequalities of their time.

Now, more than half a century after their service, two veterans of the nation's first black marine regiment received the highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, Fox 17 reported.

Last week, Cpl. Flate Staples, 88, and Staff Sgt. Robert Spencer, 94, received the award, which recognizes historical achievements of lasting impact. The veterans formerly served in the Montford Point Marines, a segregated group of African-American soldiers who served during World War II.

Cpl. Staples was both surprised and humbled by the award and the ceremony.

“I never would have dreamed that I would be recognized for the service I put in and for the things that I went through at that time," he told Fox 17 in the video above. "But, I am very grateful and honored to serve this country.”

Congress awarded the collective Montford Point regiment in June of last year with the Congressional Gold Medal, the Associated Press reports. Legislative records reveal that one year earlier Congress passed a resolution to begin honoring members of the Marines of Montford Point -- leading to last year's and Saturday's ceremonies.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it possible for African-American men to join the marines -- thereby creating this regiment, which served as a segregated unit between 1942 and 1949, according to the Montford Point Marines website.



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