November 07, 2013
By Edward Rice, III and Princess Manasseh
LAWT Contributing Writers
It was an average citizen, WWII veteran Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Alabama who organized a Veterans Day for his city on Nov 11, 1947 to honor all of America’s Veterans for their loyal service. Later U.S. Representative Edward H. Rees of Kansas proposed legislation changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day to honor all who have served in America’s Armed Forces.
While many of us will take the opportunity to stay out late Sunday night and sleep in Monday, very few will understand the reasons why and the sacrifices that accompany this federal holiday.
“Men and women who serve do so for many reasons but few pause to share the depth of those experiences,” explained Los Angeles resident and Air Force Veteran, Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth. “Having a day set aside where someone acknowledges the sacrifice made by so many who may not even know why they made the choice they made, is an honor that goes beyond words or the waving of a flag.”
One was a seventeen year old wanting to strike out on his own, another was an aspiring nurse who saw the Marines as her ticket to success, still a third was a young man drafted against his will. Here are the stories of veterans shedding some light on the scope of military life, and telling what Veteran’s Day means to them.
“I had always been told I would go to college and I expected I would be successful in life, but no one in my family had gone to college, nor had anyone (in recent memory) served in the military,” said Bridgeforth was recruited in the late eighties by an African American Sergeant who looked professional and confident in the teenagers eyes. “When Staff-Sergeant Thomas McCray presented the Air Force as a viable option and I responded affirmatively, I was really saying ‘Yes’ to being like him,” Bridgeforth recalls.
Robert Miller’s story is rather different. A teenager in the late sixty’s Miller was drafted into the Army during a time of political unrest.
“I went in during a time when they were trying to draft a lot of Black people to Vietnam,” Miller recalls. “People were refusing to draft, they were running away to Canada and other places, it wasn’t a time in America for Black people,” recalled Miller. “It was a militant time, the panther party was going on, there were the hippies up the north, free love all that kind of stuff. JFK had not long been assassinated, it was one of those times in history when it wasn’t popular to go to the military. When you came back people called you baby killers…all kind of stuff was going on.”
Miller served in the US Army from 1966 to 1968. During that same two-year period, Viola Williams served in the Marine Corps, having gone in by choice in pursuit of success.
“During the time that I was in the military it seemed you could be successful if you wanted to, if you had a goal. For women, maybe if you wanted to travel, or maybe wanted to meet your husband, those were options. But for me it was an opportunity to get into something that was my calling. I really didn’t know where it was going to lead me but I felt that no matter where it sent me, it was going to be a positive experience,” Williams remembered.
“I could’ve gotten lost in that environment and the culture, a very male dominated culture. Thankfully I was able to stay focused, it was a great experience that lead me to where I am today.”
Today Williams is a Nurse at the VA Hospital where she sees veterans on a daily basis, many whose military experiences turned out harder than hers.
“Yes I see a lot of homeless men and women veterans, I would say I see more homeless Black veterans than Whites,” shared Williams. “We [the VA Hospital] have programs in place and ones that we’re developing to help homeless veterans transition back into society,” explained Williams. “One of my goals is to develop a network and support group through social media, that informs veterans of the resources available to them. I see so many resources underutilized it hurts my heart.”
Deonte P. Allen Sr. served 12 years in the U.S. Army achieving the rank of Sargent. Going in as a seventeen-year-old Allen chose the military because he wanted to be able to provide for himself.
Joining the military years after Miller, Allen served in active duty during a different war and at a very different time politically.
“One of the best ‘thank you’s’ I’ve ever received from a civilian was while I was in Kabul, Afghanistan. A young boy walked up to me to thank me for protecting him and his family. The only thing the news covered was the few that did not want us there. In reality so many of them appreciate America for helping their country.”
Allen who was deployed to war environments on six different occasions says maturing is the biggest change he underwent in the military,
“I had a care-free attitude when I joined, but I soon realized that I needed to grow up mentally. Realizing that men and women to my left and right depended on me, I knew I had to mature quickly.”
“Veteran’s Day is important to me because our country takes a day to celebrate the men and women that have given a part of their life to serve this great country,” explained Allen. “Being in the military is not for everybody, and the few that decide to join and serve deserve a day to be recognized.”
It’s no secret that since slaves first arrived in America there has not been a war fought by this country that African Americans did not participate in. To this day the proud history established by African Americans in the military such as the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airman continues with our current men and women.