CATAWBA ISLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio — While the controversy over whether transgender personnel can serve in the military rages on, there are a few people who experienced exclusion in the armed forces when it was more of a matter of black and white.
Roscoe Brown, the last of the Tuskegee Airmen pilots known to live on Long Island, told his family he did not want an elaborate church funeral. He wanted a jazz band to play instead, and for people to get together over shared stories and maybe a cold beer.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the beach with my grandparents in Ocean City, New Jersey. I have fond memories, many of them of my grandfather humming something while working or cooking. Once I asked him what song he was singing, and he answered “the Air Corps song.”
We need to remember and embrace some of the lessons of battlefield excellence that all-black military units displayed during World War II. The perseverance, professionalism, courage, innovation, and sheer guts of all-black military units are significant for a number of reasons. First, the U.S. military was extremely segregated and maintained a structured system of bias toward blacks. Blacks were initially placed in non-combat specialties such as cooks, drivers, and orderlies and they were given second-class equipment and sometimes ineffective combat training. Second, unlike all other military personnel, blacks were told that they wouldn’t and couldn’t be good soldiers.