MANSFIELD -- Former Mansfield Police Chief Lawrence "Bunk" Harper was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at Dan Lew Exchange in Mansfield on Saturday.
Mansfield attorney Roeliff Harper accepted the award on his father's behalf. The Congressional Gold Medal is — along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.
Chief Harper, who became the first black police officer and then in 1990 the first chief in Mansfield's history, passed away at the age of 89 in 2016. His work with the police totaled 54 years.
“He would have been deeply moved and very, very thankful,” his son said.
Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker read a proclamation from the city of Mansfield.
“We are gathered together to honor Mansfield’s former Chief of Police, Lawrence Harper, with grateful recognition of this service to our city and our country," Theaker said.
Chief Harper was a Montford Point Marine and trained in North Carolina during World War II. He enlisted in Cincinnati at age 16 on June 6, 1944, the same day as D-Day.
Nearly 20,000 black Marines were trained at Montford Point, North Carolina, during the war, completely segregated from their white counterparts. Harper, who joined at age 16, was among the first recruits, enlisting on June 6, 1944 -- also known as D-Day.
A representative from the Montford Point Marine Association presented the medal. The ceremony also included letters from former President Barak Obama and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Eight years ago, then-President Obama signed into law legislation that awarded all Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal. The gold medal was awarded to the Montford Point Marines in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to their country during the war.
Roeliff Harper joined with several family members and spoke to the crowd that gathered to honor his father.
“Dad said he lived his life like a cavalry charge, he did," Harper said. "And what that meant to me was that he would decide on something, focus on it, and walk toward it and didn’t care how long it took to get there.
"You take a step today. You take another step tomorrow. You’re going to get there. That’s exactly what he did.”
Chief Harper received a Bachelor's of Science degree at Ashland University.
In June of 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Act that prohibited racial discrimination in the nation’s defensive programs and established the Fair Employment Practice Commission. Chief Harper took advantage of the opportunity and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Currently, some of the youngest surviving Montpoint Marines are in their 90s, with the oldest being well over 100. In fact, Aug. 26 is Montpoint Marine Day.