'Proud day:' Milwaukee Marine, among the 1st African-Americans to enlist, receives Congressional Gold Medal

William Coffer Jr.

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee veteran received the Congressional Gold Medal Sunday, Aug. 18 for being one of the first African-Americans to enlist in the military during times of segregation.

Many consider William Coffer Jr. to be a true American hero, and on Sunday, he received the nation's highest civilian honor -- the Congressional Gold Medal. During a ceremony Sunday, Coffer Jr., along with friends, family, and other veterans celebrated.

"It's a proud day, not just for him, but for all of us who have served in the Marine Corps as African-Americans," said Larry Jones, veteran.

Larry Jones

As one of the first African-Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1948, Jones called Coffer Jr. a pioneer, and said the award reflects his heroism.

"I think it was a great victory for African-Americans," said Jones.

That sentiment was shared by many in the room, including his daughter.

"I was overwhelmed," said Cassandra Coffer. "I was just happy for him. He's well respected, even though he's not well known to everyone."

Keeping his remarks brief, Coffer Jr. said he was honored to serve his country, he's proud of the legacy he left as a Marine, and he hopes other Marines who follow in his footsteps will continue to hold themselves to a similar standard of service.

"There should be no segregation," said Jones. "No black. No white. We're a band of brothers."

The organization tasked with awarding these medals needs your help. Due to a fire several years ago, records of those first African-Americans who served during this time were lost. If you know someone who might be eligible, CLICK HERE to learn more.