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Unappreciated Heroes, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1445

Essay

Though viewed by many as a great bastion of upward mobility for the black people and other minorities, the United States armed forces have not always been receptive to black soldiers. “Despite a sometimes hostile reception in official quarters, blacks have served their country with honor and bravery since the country’s earliest days” (Black Military Heroes).  The military account of African Americans begins from the appearance of the first black slaves at some point of the colonial history of the United States to the modern days. It is even hard to imagine the outcomes of wars if African Americans did not participate in them. Unfortunately, African Americans were not always treated in a fair way. They appeared to be unappreciated heroes in wars in past history.

It is worth saying that African Americans made a great contribution to the wars. African Americans in fact did participate in every war within or conducted by the United States, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other minor conflicts. There were hundreds of thousands of black people who volunteered to go to war. The history of African Americans in the American Civil War is marked by 186,097 African Americans comprising 163 units that served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Thousands of African Americans were serving in the Union Navy. Needless to say, both free African Americans and slaves who were able to escape joined the fight. On the Confederate side, blacks, both free and slave  were used for labor, but the issue of whether to arm them, and under what terms, became a major source of debate amongst those in the South. The regiments carried on serving and took part in the Spanish-American War after the end of Indian Wars in 1890s. “They took part in the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico and in the Philippine-American War” (Military History of African Americans). Alongside the African Americans who performed in Regular Army units throughout the Spanish American War, additional five African American Volunteer Army units and seven African American National Guard units also participated in battles. The segregation in the US Armed forces remained through World War I. Nevertheless, many African Americans eagerly volunteered to join the Allied cause following America’s entry into the war. By the time of the peace agreement with Germany in 1918, some 350,000 African Americans had functioned in the American Expeditionary Force in the Western Front. There were thousands of soldiers of color who served their nation and motherland with honor during World War II. Some 125,000 black soldiers travelled overseas during World War II. “Famous segregated units, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and 761st Tank Battalion showed their best in battle, leading to desegregation of all U.S. Army” (Medal of Honor Recipients).

Even though there was a high enlistment rate in the US Army, African Americans were not treated equally. Racial tension aggravated situation in the Army causing contradictions in troops’ ranks and diminishing the power and unity of troops. At parades, church services, and canteens, when transported the soldiers of different races were kept separate. African Americans, both male and female, were segregated and prevented from full participating integrated combat units and on combat ships.  Black soldiers had a greater chance to be drafted, positioned in labor battalions, provided with mediocre medical care, and rejected the commissions. If compared to white soldiers experience during the wartime the black soldiers appeared to be in less favorable conditions. Yet, when facing the challenge, African Americans proved time and again to be able to handle any weapon of war in every situation on land, at sea, or in the air. In spite of African Americans’ acts of bravery and their commitment to win the war, it was not until the end of World War II that racial barriers in the Armed Forces began to be eliminated. “On June 25, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission to lead the way in erasing discrimination based on color or race through full participation in the defense program, including the Armed Forces” (Neverdon-Morton, 1993). However, it’s implementing didn’t bring considerable results in eliminating discrimination against African Americans in the Armed until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981. It provided integrating the military and mandating equality of treatment and opportunity. Moreover, it made it illegitimate, for every military law, to formulate racist remarks. Unification of the military was incomplete for several years. In 1950, Lieutenant Leon Gilbert of the still-segregated 24th Infantry Regiment was court marshaled and sentenced to death for refusing to obey the orders of a white officer while serving in the Korean War. Gilbert argued that the orders would have inevitably caused death for himself and the men under his authority. The case in question resulted in international protests and amplified attention to isolation and racism in the American military. Gilbert’s prison term was altered to twenty and later seventeen years. However, he served only five years and was discharged. The unification directed by Truman’s 1948 Executive Order reached schools and neighborhoods as well as military troops. Fifteen years later, the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara released the Department of Defense Directive 5120.36, which mandated that every military commander has the liability to resist discriminatory attempts distressing his men and to promote equivalent opportunity for them, not only in areas under his direct authority, but in close communities where they may possibly meet in off-duty hours as well. Though the decree was issued in 1963, only in 1967 was the first non-military organization acknowledged off-limits. In 1970 the obligation for commanding officers to first acquire authorization from the Secretary of Defense was raised, and areas were permitted to be confirmed housing areas off-limits to military staff by their commanding officer.

African Americans were discriminated even after the wars. “When the Civil War ended, 21 African- American Soldiers wore the Medal of Honor. Blacks have earned our nation’s highest honor in every war since then, except, strangely, during World War II” (Medal of Honor Recipients). Surprisingly, more than a million African American soldiers served in that conflict and thousands courageously perished in it, nevertheless, not one obtained any of its 433 Medals of Honor. “In 1993 the Army contracted Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to research and prepare a study to determine if there was a racial disparity in the way Medal of Honor recipients were selected. Shaw’s team researched the issue and, finding that there was disparity, recommended the Army consider a group of 10 soldiers for the Medal of Honor. Of those 10, seven were recommended to receive the award” (Medal of Honor Recipients). In 1996 Congress voted for the crucial legislation which permitted the President to grant these Medals of Honor since the legislative limit for awarding had terminated. In a ceremony of January 13, 1997, President Clinton presented The Medals of Honor. Vernon Baker was the sole receiver still living and able to obtain his medal; the other soldiers gained their awards posthumously, with their honors being displayed to family members. These seven privileged soldiers have come to signify the outstanding input of all African American soldiers who contributed to the prosperity, freedom, and security our country in all our wars.

African Americans contributed considerably in a variety of ways. Although they were not as prominent as whites, they did much of the same work and deserve much of the same recognition. “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship” (Medal of Honor Recipients). In such a way Frederick Douglass, a former slave and Abolitionist, commented on at the time controversial topic of African American enlistment into the U.S. Army. Had he lived till modern days, he would definitely have smiled a joyous and patriotic smile. Nowadays, in modern American society black and white citizens enjoy equal rights both in civil life and in the Army.

References

Medal of Honor Recipients. (2009). African American World War II. Retrieved May 12, 2009, from http:/www.history.army.mil./html/moh/mohb.html

Fletcher, Marvin. (1974). The Black Soldier and Officer in the U.S. Army, 1891-1917. Columbia, University of Missouri Press.

Black Military Heroes. (2009). Retrieved May 11, 2009, from http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/departments/homework/?article=blackmilitaryheroes

Military History of African Americans. Spanish American War. Retrieved May 11, 2009, from http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Military_history_of_African_Americans_-_Spanish_American_War/id/605663

Neverdon-Morton, C. (1993). African Americans and World II. Negro History Bulletin, Vol. 51

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