The parade unfolding in front of Reverend Dr. E. I. Norman left the World War II veteran speechless. Ceremonies for minorities were almost unheard of in his time, and he was watching, more than six decades later, as countless Marines devoted their time and energy to honor a minority – his nephew.
The reverend’s nephew, Master Gunnery Sgt. Kelly B. Norman, the communications chief for Communications Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, retired aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 20, after serving 30 years in the Marine Corps. His regiment held a retirement ceremony and parade to honor his faithful service to the nation and the Corps.
It was a bittersweet day for Kelly Norman as he received letters of appreciation for his service from the Commander in Chief, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. On one hand, he was leaving active duty, and on the other, he was moving on in his life as his loved ones, friends and mentors watched with pride in the bleachers.
“With the family here, it was more emotional,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Norman, a native of Reading, Pa. “It’s a sad day for me, but it’s a day that had to happen.”
During the ceremony, CLR-17 honored Reverend Dr. Norman while he stood beside his nephew and the regimental commander as the Marines completed a pass in review.
“My uncle being a part of [my retirement] has made it more meaningful,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Norman. “I’m kind of living proof of what they had hoped for.”
Reverend Norman was drafted into the Marines in 1944 and was sworn in at Montford Point Camp in New River, N.C., where he joined some of the first African American Marines in history.
“I feel proud for being invited to be at his retirement,” said Reverend Dr. Norman. “I feel honored to see his success, the support he has had and the opportunities he has had along the journey. In my day, it was a different story. In my day, we were just proud to become a Marine. For a long time, we were denied the opportunity to serve. When the door was finally opened, we were allowed the opportunity to [become Marines].”
Master Gunnery Sgt. Norman recalled how his uncle was always an inspiration to him. When he decided to join the Military, he thought about the other branches, but deep down knew he wanted to follow his uncle into the Marine Corps. It wasn’t until he earned the title that he learned about the unique history they shared.
“When I found out later that my uncle was a Montford Point Marine, I was even more proud because he is living history of where it all started for minority Marines,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Norman. “I’m honored that he is able to be here to celebrate my retirement and our birthday ball this Friday. Two things he was not able to attend when he was a Marine.”
The nation and the Marine Corps have changed dramatically since the time of segregation. Reverend Dr. Norman lived in a time when there were ‘colored Marines’ and ‘white Marines.’ Now he can watch a close relative serve in a Corps where there are only United States Marines.
“To see now how we have expanded, to see the progress being made, makes me proud that I served through that time,” said Reverend Dr. Norman. “I’m so glad he invited me here.”