As I watched Barack Obama's inaugural address, I thought of my experience in World War 2. I'm a white man who was a lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps assigned to a service company consisting of 4 white officers and 228 black enlisted men.I'm so proud of my dad for writing this letter, so proud of him for knowing how wrong segregation was when he was in the thick of it. I was shocked as I was researching The Book of Dead Birds to learn that this sort of segregation was still happening in the US military well into the 1970s. Thank goodness our culture is continuing to evolve--I'm thankful my dad can remind me just how far we've come within his lifetime.
After training these men at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, we went overseas in a Liberty ship, disembarking at Liverpool, England. For our first meal in Liverpool, we entered a room and were confronted by a large rope stretched down the middle of the room with these directions: "whites on this side, blacks on the other side". That rope symbolized the segregation policy of the U.S. Armed Forces. The image of that rope remains deeply etched in my memory.
During World War 2, black soldiers were treated like second class citizens. Today, we salute Barack Obama, our country's first African- American Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. I hope that some of the men with whom I served and were victimized by what that awful rope represented are still alive to witness this great historic time.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
My dad recently published this moving letter to the editor in the North County Times; he had titled it "The Awful Rope", but they retitled it "Images of a segregated US still resonate":