It’s been a long time since Lenal Moore talked about his time on Iwo Jima’s black-soiled beaches.
He doesn’t talk about it to almost anyone — in fact, many of his friends had no idea Moore served in the Marines during World War II. But the nightmares still come to find Moore and his mind often drifts to a time and place many would rather forget.
Moore, 87, of Ashtabula, cried barely contained tears Sunday as he was presented the highest honor befitting a Marine — the Congressional Gold Medal. The medal was minted specifically for African American Marines who served at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, N.C. where segregated African Americans were trained for the U.S. Marine Corps. from 1942 to 1949.
Sgt. Maj. Michael Burke said the conditions at Montford Point “were less then ideal.”
Daughter Rose Moore said her father rarely spoke of his Marine Corps days, but wore a leg brace and orthopedic shoe for many years.
“He told us once that during training he had to sleep in the woods because they wouldn’t let him sleep in the barracks with the white soldiers. So he slept on logs in the woods in North Carolina, but he is still proud that he did what he did for his country,” she said.
Burke said the Marine Corps recognizes the hardships African American soldiers faced during segregation.
“(Moore) joined at a time when his country did not treat everyone equally,” he said. “The service of Mr. Moore, and Marines like him, changed the way American operates and the way it treats its citizens.”
Moore, who was born in Arkansas and settled in Ashtabula at the urging of an uncle who lived here, was honorably discharged after he was wounded in the left leg by shrapnel. He married Mary Alice Moore, raised nine children in Ashtabula and retired from Cobbledick Buick Oldsmobile after 30 years of work. He has 24 grandchildren, and “many, many, many, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren,” Rose Moore said.
He spends his time repairing used bicycles for needy children at the Dream Center in Ashtabula.
Moore said his job on Iwo Jima was to clean up after battles — helping the wounded and burying the dead.
“But if I had to do it again, I would,” he said. “Because of the Marines, I’ve seen it all.”
Burke said more than 20,000 men served out of Montford Point, but just 900 are still alive.
“The Marine Corps is chasing down the last living Montford Point Marines,” he said. “We will make sure they are presented a Congressional Gold Medal of their own. This is something that is long, long overdue.”
Burke said of the 900 living Montford Point Marines, Moore is one of the last to receive his medal.
“He actually may be one of the very last ones to get a medal,” he said. “We are still finding them, here and there, and we are in a race against time, so to speak, in getting these medals to them.”
Burke said he can’t imagine a segregated Marine Corps now.
“Black, white, Native American — the only color that matters now is Marine green,” he said.
So, surrounded by friends, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, Moore tearfully accepted his honor, which came with a letter of recognition by President Barack Obama.
“I am so honored, and really surprised,” he said.
While Iwo Jima is thousands of miles away and decades gone from Moore, those years of service are still a part of the 87-year-old’s life.
“I still have nightmares,” he said. “That’s why I never talked about my service to my friends. But it just comes back, because it isn’t anything you sit down to think about, but it stays with you. It becomes a part of who you are and who you were. Your whole life, it stays with you.”