LA MESA, Calif. — "I can't tell you how long I've waited to meet a Montford Point Marine."
Those are the first words I said as I pulled up a chair at the senior living community, Grossmont Gardens.
Sitting across from me was Dr. Carrel Reavis who replied, "Well, you've met one. What would you like to know?"
On December 7, 1941, after the attack of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that in order to win World War II, America would need all of its manpower. He ordered the recruitment of African Americans into the military for the first time in American history.
The Marine Corps was all-white at the time, yet African American recruits were sent to a segregated all-black boot camp at Montford Point, North Carolina.
"[That's] because we were 'Negroes,' [and] the country was divided at that time," said Reavis.
He was one of the original Montford Point Marines. He was drafted and ordered to serve the country.
"You didn't have a choice?" I asked.
"I don't know anybody who had one," said Reavis. "If they draft you, you report. If you don't, they send someone after you."
Reavis told me the recruits lived in shoddy conditions in a swamp. Twenty-thousand African Americans trained at the camp that was closed in 1949.
"Tell me about that medal you wear on your chest," I said.
"That is the Congressional Gold Medal given to the Montford Pointers," said Reavis.
In 2012, Congress collectively awarded the Montford Point Marines the Congressional Gold Medal. This act kicked off a series of overdue accolades for Montford Point Marines.
On Veterans Day, Sharp HealthCare honored Reavis and other veterans living at Grossmont Gardens. That is where I asked this question: "In nearly 80 years, what do you think has changed in America?"
"I don't think we've learned too much, because any city in this country you go into, you'll find most Negroes in the southern part of the city," said Reavis.
"Think about that."
At 96 years old, Reavis speaks frankly about how maintained his dignity at Montford Point.
"I'm in love with myself," said Reavis. "That's how I see me. There is nobody who loves me more than I do."
When he started his military service, he wasn't allowed to drink from white-only water fountains, yet chose to serve his country for 21 years.
"Everybody is one," he said. "All men are the sons of one man."
"Thank you for your service," I said while shaking his hand.
Reavis was married for 60 years to his wife, Joan. She passed away in 2017. They have two children.