At 103 years old, Richard Washington has experienced a lot, but Barack Obama being elected President of the United States tops his list.
"I wish my mother could have been alive, she would have been so proud," Washington said.
One of thirteen children, Richard Washington is impressive in his own right. He's one of the nation's first African American Marines, and he's also now the oldest living African American Marine in the country.
Washington recalls trying for years to join the Marine Corps, but African-Americans were refused until 1942, and still subjected to racism and discrimination.
"Traditionally Parris Island, South Carolina was the place where a person became a Marine, but the Governor of South Carolina said he's not coming here." Washington said. "So they came up with the idea of sending us to a god forsaken place in North Carolina called Montford Point."
Some 20,000 African Americans from across the country, who wanted to prove they were worthy of serving their country, were segregated at Montford Point during 1942 and 1949.
"There we became acquainted with the natives of that place which were the snakes and rats," Washington said. "The physical conditions of the camp were far below the standard of Parris Island."
It took decades for the Montford Point Marines to be recognized, but in June of 2012 the surviving members were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor for outstanding perseverance and courage that inspired social change in the Marine Corps.
At 102, Washington wasn't physically able to attend the ceremony in our nation's Capital, so 12 Marines in full dress uniform later brought the historic event to him.
"It doesn't give you a glow, because you say, "well at last somebody said thank you." Washington said. "I'm glad they recognized something about it. They are saying thank you for your services under very bad conditions and we were glad to get it so I am grateful, grateful for the recognition."
In his lifetime, Washington has never let discrimination discourage him, always rising above it with his ambition and hard work.
He went to school at night and graduated from Temple University. He eventually earned a top position in the Philadelphia School District.
"The only position you could get in the School District of Philadelphia when I came in would be the most menial and that is in maintenance, but I wound up, thank god, as supervisor of my accounting dept." Washington said.
Richard Washington lost his wife of 67 years in May of 2013, He now resides at Willow Lake Retirement Community where he faithfully reads two newspapers a day and does the crossword puzzles. He mostly looks forward to daily visits from his proud and devoted daughter Carrissima.
"He is one of the best-hearted people you will ever meet. He's genuine. He's for real and he's very alert and remembers everything, "Carrissima Faust said "Once you meet him, you will never forget it."
So what's Washington's secret to a long and happy life?
"Haha, I have no secret what so ever. I know that would eventually come up." Washington said. "All I can tell you is try to live every day as if it's the last and you want to leave a good impression."
As he closes in on 104 years old on June 26, what a wonderful and lasting impression Richard Washington leaves with everyone he meets.
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