A true appreciation of war veterans
By Bill Fletcher, Jr., NNPA Columnist
My late father was born on what was originally called “Armistice Day” – now celebrated as Veteran’s Day – November 11. He went on to serve in World War II in the U.S. Navy, stationed in the Pacific.
My father was originally a high school dropout. I say “originally” because after returning home from his service in the Navy, he reoriented his life. He finished high school and then, through the GI Bill, was able to attend Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.
The next time that someone tells you that we need to shrink government, ask them “Why?” Had it not been for so-called “big government,” my father and millions of others returning from World War II would have found themselves in the midst of a massive economic depression. My father was able to use that college education and gain a respectable standard of living.
Unfortunately not all African American veterans were as fortunate as my father. Many African Americans were, in effect, ‘cashiered’ out of the service and thereby rendered ineligible for the benefits associated with the GI Bill. It is for this reason that the GI Bill overwhelmingly served White veterans while African Americans were left behind. In addition, African American veterans were returning to a racially segregated U.S.A. Even with the GI Bill, Black veterans frequently had the decks stacked against them. This situation actually contributed to the growth of the Civil Rights Movement as Black veterans felt increasingly incensed by having fought against fascism abroad, only to re-encounter racism at home.
On Nov. 11, I also think about the Black veterans of the Vietnam War. Whereas World War II was recognized, overwhelmingly, as a “just war,” the Vietnam War was a criminal enterprise in violation of international law. Black veterans had the experience of a horrendous war and racism within the ranks, only to return to a nation that was on the verge of an economic transition that would limit their post-war opportunities. They returned to a U.S. that was beginning to be flooded with heroin and where jobs were starting to disappear. They returned to a USA that, for the most part, wanted to forget about the Vietnam War and the soldiers who served in it.
For all that this country says about how it cherishes veterans, the reality is that this is largely not the case. Certainly there are the heroes, dead and living, from various wars. But the average veteran who returns rarely has the opportunity to, safely, discuss their experiences in war. There is little sensitivity to issues such as post-traumatic stress, though that has improved over the years. And, to add insult to injury, war-monger administrations, such as the Bush administration most recently, was prepared to lie us into a war and, at the same time, cut benefits for veterans.
I wish that there was some sort of sincerity on Veteran’s Day. Anyone who has or has had a veteran in their family probably knows exactly what I mean.
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