Last weekend at a restaurant in Jacksonville’s overly teeming St. John’s Town Center, I heard two gentlemen talk about why they will no longer be watching NFL games anymore. The older white men talked about how those players were disrespecting the flag and our veterans.
Of course, I didn’t engage the two men with an opposing opinion, but it just reinforced the fact that issues like NFL players kneeling during the national anthem are simply a matter of perspective and tolerance. Some have also made it a political issue, which simply distorts the facts and misrepresents the real reason the kneeling began in the first place.
So let’s put politics aside and talk about a group of Americans that make the ultimate sacrifice for our country – our veterans. Veteran’s Day will be recognized this week, and it is a holiday that reminds us of the sacrifices many men and women have made fighting for our country.
In fact, risking ones life for his country is truly the ultimate sacrifice. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Never has there been a good war or a bad peace.”
We honor all veterans on this day, but I think special recognition must be given to those who fought for a country they loved that refused to consider them as “true” citizens.
And this is not some radical message intended to stir anyone up, but recognition of the black soldiers who fought for this country during very turbulent times – dealing with open racism and segregation.
One of the most troubling stories I have ever heard was from a senior citizen who was attempting to explain to me the various racial, social and financial hurdles he had gone through in his life.
He talked about serving our great country in WWII and coming home to be treated like a second-class citizen. In fact, he talked about military dogs being treated better than African American soldiers.
He recalled being on a train in Europe in which German prisoners were able to ride in passenger cars, but black soldiers had to ride in the back of the train – often with cattle and other livestock.
So while African American soldiers fought in many battles and died on many battlefields, blacks still were never good enough to be considered as equals. Back in the homeland blacks continued to be discriminated against and lynched in record numbers during WWII.
And throughout the South, the racist legal system we know as “Jim Crow” segregated people by race in restrooms, hotels, restaurants, and most other public accommodations.
My grandfather was good enough to drive trucks in the military supplying goods and supplies, but he wasn’t good enough to eat at a diner in downtown Jacksonville or use the same restrooms as whites in Hemming Plaza.
“My country tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where our fathers died, Land of the pilgrims pride,” were hardly words that related to the true conditions facing black soldiers.
Not only was the U.S. military segregated during World War II, but black soldiers were also excluded from most victory parades that followed. And although many history books don’t tell us that African Americans truly played a prominent role in the United States’ victories in WWII.
The Tuskegee Airmen escorted bombers on runs in North Africa and parts of Europe and never lost a bomber. The 761st Tank Battalion, known as the ‘Black Panthers,’ landed in France four months after the D-Day invasion and later liberated concentration camps. It wasn’t until thirty-three years after the war ended; the group received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Some would say why talk about these past injustices, let’s move forward. I agree, but I am not talking about the past to upset any one, and I am not advocating reparations for these injustices, just simple recognition.
Sometimes simple recognition goes a long way.
The United States has the most powerful military in the world, and we historically have stood “united” against terrorism, evil dictators and injustice around the world. Unfortunately we have never been united against racism, bigotry and discrimination.
But the past is the past, and as we continue to evolve as a young nation, we have to acknowledge past injustices and learn from them. America’s strength is our diversity. That’s what our solider fight for – justice, equality, opportunity and freedom. We give honor to all veterans, and thank them for their continued sacrifice and commitment to this country.