If there is only one word to describe a military veteran, it would be “sacrifice.”
Few professions require one to put their life on the line in service to others as millions of men and women have done on behalf of this country other than military service. On Veterans Day, November 11, saying “Thank You” is the very least any American will do or say to express appreciation for the sacrifices so many have made and to acknowledge them for their service.
But for a military draft, most veterans joined the military voluntarily. In many cases, it was a family legacy of service that reached across generations. In others, it was a call to serve with benefits, including opportunities to travel, learn a skill or pursue a profession, purchase a home, or seek refuge from a life seemingly without a future. Some say the military is a place where a man can learn to become a man or where a woman can break barriers and destroy stereotypes. But it’s all in the name of service defined by a military pledge “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
For Black Americans, the commitment to support and defend the country was often met by hostile treatment within the service and by those they confronted when they returned. Yet, since the beginning of U.S. military history, Black Americans have proven their loyalty. In 1776, Crispus Attucks, a Black man, was the first to be killed in the American Revolutionary War, fighting for America’s independence from Britain. Thousands of Black people followed and they fought on both sides for freedom, a right they didn’t themselves possess.
From then until now, Blacks have served in every conflict and war in which the U.S. has engaged. We remember some of them as the First Rhode Island Regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (featured in the film “Glory”), the Buffalo Soldiers, the 369th Infantry Regiment Harlem Hellfighters and the Tuskegee Airman, to name a few. And, we honor great Black military leaders including Doris “Dorie” Miller, Gens. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Hazel Johnson-Brown, General Colin Powell and U.S. Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard.
Today, Lloyd Austin III, a four-star general, serves as the first Black person in U.S. history to be named the U.S. secretary of defense. He is responsible for overseeing all of the nation’s armed forces, including over one million future veterans, nearly 12 percent of whom are Black.
On Veterans Day, we honor you. We celebrate your service and we strongly urge the U.S. government to do better by you to ensure your service and sacrifice were not in vain.