Thank you. The two simple yet indelible words were the backdrop of the U.S. Department of Defense’s 60th anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration, which celebrates African American’s contributions to the three-year battle.
Held in the Pentagon’s Auditorium, the event drew military veterans, decorated service men and women, civilians, families and friends who came out to pay homage to the African-American men who valiantly battled on the Korean peninsula to restore peace abroad even as their human rights were denied at home. Though their contributions may not have been appreciated then, a stirring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” and the Presentation of Colors set the tone for a ceremony which would recognize them as full-fledged heroes and equals to all men who served.
Jean Davis, outreach manager of the event, began the afternoon’s affair by recognizing the guests of honor and their “self sacrifice that paved the way for democracy.”
“Those who returned from that far off war received no parade; there was no media event to celebrate their accomplishments. In many respects that is why we are here today to reassure our Korean War veterans that America does remember the forgotten victory,” said Davis.
Following meditation, Col. David J. Clark, director of the 60th Anniversary War Commemoration Committee, remarked on the war’s legacy and the veterans’ unwavering loyalty during a time of segregation.
“If you think about it, this is one on of the most selfless patriotic acts of sacrifice in American history and for this reason alone America owes an unpayable debt to its African-American veterans… Thank God for African-American patrons.” These contributions, and those of other African-American troops, propelled the military to become fully integrated in the 1960s, he added.
Following Clark’s words, ally and benefactor of the men’s heroic efforts Brig. Gen. Lee Seo Young, South Korean defense attaché, extended his gratitude to the service men for their brave and devoted allegiance and commitment to defending Korea’s freedom.
“Because of the courage of many service men, the Korean flag still flies over the Republic of Korea. You won freedom, democracy and prosperity for our nation; that is what you fought for and that is what the Republic of Korea stands for now.”
Lasting from the 1950 to 1953, the Korean War claimed the lives of more than 5,000 Black Americans. Pegged as “the forgotten victory,” the African-American presence in the battle hides even deeper in history than the battle itself; it is rarely discussed. However, its lack of exposure doesn’t lessen its impact or importance as it forever changed the relationship of two continents and initiated the desegregation of the armed services.
According to the event’s press release, in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, securing the full integration of America’s Armed Services. Thus, America went to war in Korea for the first time in her history with a military that reflected her diversity.
The ceremony culminated with the words of keynote speaker, Ronald M. Joe, of the Senior Executive Service.
“For too long, these were soldiers in the shadows…forgotten heroes,” he said. “Today it should be clear to you, all of you, that you are forgotten no more.”
Joe applauded the armed forces for their “impressive progress towards President Truman’s vision of an inclusive military that reflects the ideal of the nation but encouraged more diversity in upper ranks.”
He added, “The transformation of the armed forces remains unfinished. Women and minorities are still underrepresented in leadership positions.
“ in 2011, we are still faced with the quality of treatment, office making issues and the senior core is not as diverse as it should be. We need to make sure that the pathways to senior office positions are open to all.”
In admiration of the veterans’ selfless fight, he said, “Because of you we can build a big bridge and we can go across it to a better nation.”
The event ended with a viewing of the film, For the Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots and a panel discussion with seven distinguished service men, led by Robert V. Morris, author of Black Faces of War.