The Rev. Dr. E. I. Norman found himself speechless during a recent ceremony and parade at Camp Pendleton in California.
Norman, a World War II veteran, said such ceremonies for minorities were almost unheard of in his time, and he was watching, more than six decades later, as countless Marines honored a minority – his nephew.
The tribute to Master Gunnery Sgt. Kelly B. Norman, a Reading native, was for his 30 years of "faithful service" to the country and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Kelly Norman, the communications chief for Communications Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, received letters of appreciation for his service from President Barack Obama and the commandant of the Marine Corps.
The younger Norman described the day as bittersweet. 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 looked on.
"With the family here, it was more emotional," he said. "It's a sad day for me, but it's a day that had to happen."
During the ceremony, Norman's regiment honored his uncle as they stood side-by-side with the regimental commander while the Marines completed a pass in review.
"My uncle being a part of [my retirement] has made it more meaningful," Kelly Norman said. "I'm kind of living proof of what they had hoped for."
The Rev. 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,” he said. "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]."
Kelly Norman, upon deciding to join the military, said he thought about the other branches, but deep down he knew he wanted to follow his uncle into the Marine Corps.
"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," he said. "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."