Barry DeShong, 99, of Camden, a celebrated Montford Point Marine who later worked for nearly four decades at what became Novartis pharmaceutical corporation, died Wednesday, Oct. 25, of complications from Parkinson’s disease at his home.
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Mr. DeShong served in the Marines during World War II from 1943 to 1945 and was one of the first Black Americans to enlist after President Franklin D. Roosevelt prohibited discriminatory hiring practices in the military in 1941. He endured numerous occasions of racial prejudice during his tour of duty, including brutal living conditions at basic training camp at Montford Point, N.C.
He was stationed for a time in Roi-Namur, an island in the northern part of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and worked as a stock clerk and warehouse supervisor at the supply depot. He was discharged Dec. 7, 1945, four years to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
In 2012, the Montford Point Marines were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington for their extraordinary service, and Mr. DeShong was personally honored in 2019 by officials in his hometown of Montclair, N.J. The Montclair Local reported on the ceremony, and then-Mayor Robert Jackson called Mr. DeShong “a fine example among members of our Montclair community.” He said Mr. DeShong “earned many medals and awards for his distinguished service, setting an example for his fellow Marines.”
Over the years, Mr. DeShong attended many military events and award ceremonies, and was a featured guest at the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton and elsewhere. He was generally modest about his role as a Marine and did not realize the Montford veterans had received a collective Congressional Gold Medal until reading about it in The Inquirer.
Eventually, he joined and became active with Philadelphia Chapter No. 1 of the Montford Point Marine Association. “He is an exceptional man who has lived an extraordinary life but is still very humble about what he has done,” said Joe Geeter, the association’s national legislative director.
A fellow Marine on Facebook told Mr. DeShong: “You continue setting the pace for many with your exemplary service and commitment to semper fidelis.” He was also recognized as a “hero among us” at a New Jersey Devils ice hockey game in 2019.
Barrington Sinclair DeShong was born July 23, 1924, in Montclair. His family was part of the local Episcopal Church, and he worked as a supermarket stock clerk and cashier as a teenager.
He collected jazz, big-band, classical, folk, reggae, and rock records, and was a member of the Montclair Model Boat Club. He was a top athlete at Montclair High School and featured in the Montclair Times in 1944 for finishing third in a mile race at a military meet. He joined the Marines before he graduated and earned a war diploma in 1944.
» READ MORE: Montford Marines are honored in 2012
“He was a fun-loving kind of guy,” said his stepdaughter Merdis Hill. “He was quiet, but he had a great sense of humor.”
Mr. DeShong went to school for diesel mechanics on the G.I. Bill after his military discharge and worked jobs in retail and at a factory before joining the animal chemical testing division at Ciba Corp., which became Ciba-Geigy and then Novartis.
He married Alice Dillingham and was close to her daughter. After her death, he married Arburta Cowherd in 1979 and welcomed her seven children into his family, as well. “He treated all the kids like they were his kids,” said his stepdaughter. His stepson, William Cowherd, said: “He was like a second father.”
Mr. DeShong was an expert on Caribbean steel bands, and his record collection numbered more than 2,000. He enjoyed model slot car racing, owned a 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390, and was a member of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America.
“He was a nice guy,” his stepdaughter said. “He would do anything for you.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. DeShong is survived by a sister and other relatives. Two brothers died earlier.
A funeral service was Saturday, Nov. 11, at Little Rock Baptist Church, 1210 Kenwood Ave., Camden.
Donations in his name may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, Tenn. 38105.