I lived in Boston until my teen years. Despite its rather checkered history in race relationships, Boston is a place where my heart beats faster because I discovered what I am – I am an American. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate people that live in other countries, and I sense their struggles and their ambition for both are human. I’m certain that their histories are rich, colorful, and valiant but I have something that they don’t have – I am an American.
I’m not going to ignore incidents of police brutality, blatant injustice and discrimination. I’m sure those other places have skeletons. But, today is Veterans Day. Honesty makes me acknowledge by the hand of God I was fortunate enough to be born in the latter part of the 20th century in a country that offers opportunities to go beyond my wildest imagination.
My ancestors are African, Gaelic and Native American. My family were freemen, not slaves. That doesn’t make me better, because you wouldn’t know it if you are hell-bent in holding my skin color against me. Here is what I learned — going back to the Revolutionary War, men in my family put the uniform and defended whatever they were assigned to defend. If they were alive today, I’d tell them my journey fighting for my own civil rights, was only because some people could not accept change.
Thanking those ancestors wouldn’t be enough.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about letting our servicemen and women know how much they’re appreciated. They are the best and the brightest and always have been. There is bravery in volunteering to put one’s life on the line should the situation arise. Thank you.
My mother married a handsome man that was a member of the 101st Airborne Division and fought in the Korean War. He never talked about war, but he did his job. He let his achievements speak for him, becoming a teacher, businessman and owned a considerable amount of stuff. I don’t quarrel with materialism – he earned it. I was born in the military hospital at Fort Gordon. I started choking as I came from my mother’s womb. Had it not been for a quick thinking nurse, and a doctor, I would’ve died. They will both under uniform and white. They saved my life. Thank you is not enough.
I was always amazed by watching military hardware pass near my grandfather’s house. Tanks, trucks filled with troops, helicopters flying overhead. No one knew what fate had for them. I suppose, in some later conflicts some died, and since we are still here, their sacrifices were for you and me.
When I attended Julia Ward Howe Elementary School in Boston, Mrs. Brynn took our class on the Freedom Trail. I heard stories of Paul Revere, William Dawes, Crispus Attucks, and Concord and Lexington. Each of them had a greater purpose. We even stood on the Constitution – Old Ironsides pretending to be sailors fighting for our country. But we cannot say enough about the one’s under arms in the war of 1812, the Civil War, the Mexican War, Spanish-American War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq One and Two and places that we aren’t supposed to know about. Let’s not forget the responders at natural disasters. The spirit of men and women in arms and motivation is always the same — they protect and serve.
Beginning a generation ago a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals infiltrated the school systems and taught everything the United States does is evil. That’s bullshit. They scream about American interventionism, colonization and how America killed indigenous people. These statements have a degree of truth. But the people in uniform believe in ideals and principles of a nation that has done more for this world and spit upon, more than we deserve.
The JFK Kennedy Library in Boston sits on what was once the Columbia Point Housing Project. I lived there and had a beautiful view of Boston Harbor. I remember the fleet spreading over the horizon, then coming in precise it straight like a string of pearls. I thought about Pork Chop Hill, and Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima, the Battle of Midway, and Smoking Mountain a century before, Brandywine, the Battle of Trenton and Yorktown before that, and understood that even though my family lived in a housing project, in wars past some people didn’t come back for the privilege. And those that did make it back were unappreciated. Thank you would not be enough.
So, on this Veterans Day I’d to truly like to believe that the current Administration starts taking things seriously because the same forces that caused one to take up arms, still exist. They just call themselves something different. Our men and women come back from wars traumatized, into poverty, addictions and so on. They put on the uniform so that these suit wearing politicians can attend photo ops celebrating the Unknown Soldier without a clue as to who and what that means.
It’s time to say thank you by making the G.I. Bill stronger, and giving our troops jobs when they return to civilian life (the military trains exceedingly well), medical and psychological treatment, housing, education, and whatever else they want.
I once trained a former Marine to be an account executive. He left two months later, but not before we talked. He felt loyal and owed me, he said. He didn’t owe me anything because donning his uniform was enough. He laughed that I trained him so good, a big agency snatched him up.
I can’t say thank you enough for putting on the uniform. Maybe as a nation, we can just show some gratitude.
Bernard Alexander McNealy, President
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