By Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas, M.Ed. | AC JosepH Media Guest Blogger
On Monday, May 31, the nation paused to pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our democracy and protect our rights as Americans of all backgrounds to pursue life, liberty, and our pursuit of happiness.
Memorial Day should be a date that unites us all. As I have in past years, I attended my predominantly white European ancestries Township’s Annual Memorial Day event. Once again, there were not many Armed Forces veterans or spectators of color, which disappointed me. But as a person who tends to let my mind drift, I started to reflect on my experience with the armed forces.
My biological father, a Korean War veteran, returned home to face many landmines resulting from his experience on the battlefield. One was abandoning my mother; another was alcoholism which ultimately led to his abandoning his wife and three children.
I only met my biological father once and found his in an alcoholic; many years later, I connected with three half-siblings; One of whom biological served as a paratrooper stationed in Germany, who decided to make his home there, and because of his jumps from military airplanes and subsequent career as a sanitation engineer, resulted in a psychical condition that led to an impact on his family and financial situation.
My grandson is presently serving in the United States Marine Corps as a decorated Sergeant, ready to be deployed to Asia. Recently, his wife gave birth to their first child, a cute little boy named Matteo (Matthew).
Thousands of African American and Latino men and women have answered the call of duty to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Since the Civil War, members of these two minority groups have join white individuals of diverse European ancestry in a spirit of dedication to ensuring the safety and freedom of those back home.
Thomas A. Edison, the high school I attended in Philadelphia, has the sad distinction of losing more students in the Vietnam War than any other high school in our nation. Sixty-four Edison High school students succumb to the evils of war between 1965-1971.
The ironic thing is that while attending Edison High school in 1968-1969, I was called to report to the armed forces army recruitment center, where after my exams, I left with a 1-A classification, and my draft number was 64. This meaning that I was on the next bus, smoking to Bootcamp. However, large demonstrations of students of diverse backgrounds forced then-President Richard Nixon to end the draft, like they say, “I dodged a bullet.”
Memorial Day should be a date that unites us all. We are all bound by the memory of loved ones, by the appreciation of men and women who died for something greater, much greater than their personal ambition. We are united because, in the trenches of war, everyone is the same. The colors and cultures that make up our country should be respected and embraced. We all bleed red.
So next year, can we strive to have a multi-racial and multicultural presence at our Memorial Day events. Let’s demonstrate to our children and grandchildren that we are a different and inclusive the United States of America, where minorities will not allow justice and equality to be filibustered or denied. I hope to see more diverse and inclusive Memorial Day activities next year.
Bio: Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas is an award-winning columnist, veteran civil rights activist and former officer with the Gloucester County NAACP. He is the cofounder and retired director of Philadelphia Prison System’s Office of Community Justice and Outreach.
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