I listened with great interest as President Obama stated the war in Iraq was over. It caught my attention, because over the years I have heard the same statement, and I was compelled to ask the question, “Over for who?”
America has participated in a total of ten wars: The Spanish American, Indian, Revolution, Civil, World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. I read about the Spanish American, Indian, Revolution, Civil and World War I. However, I lived through the remaining five. My father served in World War I, my oldest brother served in World War II and I served during the Korean War. Black soldiers have served gallantly in every war.
The only war that Blacks did themselves a disservice was the Indian War where their actions enslaved another people who sought freedom just as we did. Blacks from Ohio, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois, Kansas and Massachusetts rode and served under Teddy Roosevelt. Blacks, who were slaves and free men served on both sides during the Revolution and Civil War.
There were more than 200,000 Black soldiers overseas during World War I out of a total of 365,000, and only 639 Black officers, who graduated from the colored officers training school. The navy only allowed you to serve in menial jobs and there were no Black marines.
I describe these Black soldiers as the most courageous and committed soldiers because they understood very clearly that the liberty and freedom they were seeking for others would still be denied them when they returned home. They knew full well that the war for them would never be over, that the war for equality would still be ongoing.
As late as 1952 in the army I encountered the kind of discrimination that I had only read about. In Fort Meade, Md. all Blacks were assigned to B Company and we had to wait until White soldiers got their uniforms and we could not eat until the White soldiers were fed.
In fact, we were traveling to Camp Breckenridge, Ky., and could not eat with the White soldiers, but were informed we had to eat outside at the picnic tables.
I gained some recognition as a troublemaker, because I had the nerve to question the system that perpetuated discrimination on federal land. I was informed that at that period of time I should be cool and remember that state law still superseded federal law. After doing some research they were right, but it was a period of time I will always remember.
In World War, the all-Black 369th infantry was awarded the highest military honor in France, the Legion of Merit, and they were the only American soldiers in the entire war to achieve that award.
In the year of 2012, as the Black soldiers return to America the war will still be raging in this country, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and definitely the state of Pennsylvania. They still must fight to be an integral part of that American dream that offers decent jobs, goods, service contracts, insurance contracts, bond contracts, etc.
These returning soldiers in conjunction with the local soldiers, such as you and I will have to fight to share in the rebuilding of East Liberty, Hill District, Homewood and other minority communities, but fight we must. We must never forget this is our country and much has changed, but definitely much remains the same.
Please remember Kingsley Association.
(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a weekly contributor to the Forum Page.)