Today is Veterans Day and no doubt you will hear praise, horror, and support, mostly from those who never served, but for those of us who did serve, I will tell you it is all happy horse sh$$t. They have never cared for the lives of people in theater or returning home. I am a veteran of Vietnam, a wounded soldier, spent months in a hospital in Japan, saw men wondered and die. I have yet to receive a thank you for what I did, and I am sure I am not the only one. War then as was every war was about money – plain and simple. Today everybody will say thank on social media or you might get a free meal somewhere.
Black people have served in every war waged by the United States. In fact, the first war, the revolutionary war, the first to die was a black man! Throughout the nation’s history, Black soldiers, sailors, and Marines have contributed conspicuously to America’s military efforts. From the Civil War through the Korean War, segregated Black units, usually officered by whites, performed in both combat and support capacities.
We must remember that it was not until 1948 President Harry Truman ordered the military establishment to desegregate. Although the Navy and Air Force accomplished integration by 1950, the Army, with the vast majority of Black servicemen, did not achieve desegregation until after the Korean conflict. Vietnam, then, marked the first major combat deployment of an integrated military and the first time since the turn of the century that Black participation was actually encouraged.
In 1964 Blacks represented approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population but less than 9 percent of the nation’s men in arms. The committee found uneven promotion, token integration, restricted opportunities in the National Guard and Reserves, and discrimination on military bases and their surrounding communities as causes for low Black enlistment. Before the government could react to the committee’s report, the explosion of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia changed the problem. An expanded military, a discriminatory draft, and other government programs brought not only increased Black participation but accusations of new forms of discrimination.
U.S. involvement in Vietnam unfolded against the domestic backdrop of the civil rights movement. From the outset, the use, or alleged misuse, of Black troops brought charges of racism. Civil rights leaders and other critics, including the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., described the Vietnam conflict as racist “a white man’s war, not a black man’s fight.” King maintained that black youths represented a disproportionate share of early draftees and that Blacks faced a much greater chance of seeing combat.
The draft did pose a major concern. Selective Service regulations offered deferments for college attendance and a variety of essential civilian occupations that favored middle and upper class whites. The vast majority of draftees were poor, undereducated, and urban blue-collar workers or unemployed. This reality struck hard in the Black community. Furthermore, Blacks were woefully underrepresented on local draft boards. In 1966 blacks accounted for slightly more than 1 percent of all draft board members, and seven state boards had no black representation at all.
“Project 100,000” a Great Society program launched in 1966, attempted to enhance the opportunities for underprivileged youths from poverty-stricken urban areas by offering more lenient military entrance requirements. It largely failed. Although more than 350,000 men enlisted under Project 100,000 during the remainder of the war, 41 percent were Black, and 40 percent drew combat assignments. Casualty rates among these soldiers were twice those of other entry categories. Few Project 100,000 inductees received training that would aid their military advancement or create better opportunities for civilian life.
In 1965 alone Blacks represented almost one-fourth of the Army’s killed in action. In 1968 Blacks, made up roughly 12 percent of Army and Marine total strengths, frequently contributed half the men in front-line combat units, especially in rifle squads and fire teams. I can attest to the fact that they bore a heavy share of the fighting burden, especially early in the conflict. You can forget that what you see in movies and documentaries, 80% of the soldiers I saw were black with white commanders.
Racial strife, rarely an issue among combat units because of shared risk and responsibility, became most evident in rear areas and on domestic installations. At the Navy base at Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam (RVN), white sailors donned Ku Klux Klan-like outfits, burned crosses, and raised the Confederate flag. Black prisoners, many of whom were jailed for violent crimes, rioted at the U.S. Army stockade at Long Binh jail.
Blacks played a major role in Vietnam and, in the process, changed the complexion of the U.S. Armed Forces. Contrary to popular impressions, a large proportion of Black servicemen were well-trained, highly motivated professionals; some 20 received the Medal of Honor, and several became general officers. Not until Vietnam did this happen, because on about 15 years earlier the military was segregated.
Despite the likelihood of seeing hazardous duty, they reenlisted at substantially higher rates than whites. In 1964 blacks represented less than 9 percent of all U.S. Armed Forces; by 1976 they made up more than 15 percent of all men in arms. Although the percentage of Black officers doubled between 1964 and 1976, they still accounted for less than 4 percent of the total.
The participation of Americans of African descent in the U.S. military has a long and distinguished history. But although blacks have participated in all American wars, they have sometimes faced almost as bitter hostility from their fellow Americans as from the enemy. Lastly, they have had a harder time receiving earned benefits such as disability and GI Bill rights. So I say if you never served shut up because you probably don’t know what you are talking about! If I had it to do all over again I would never join this man’s military. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…