Speaking candidly, like many other draftees of my era, I wasn't exactly euphoric over the idea of being conscripted into the military.
In my case, it was the U.S. Army.
But, in reflection, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Not only was I given the opportunity to serve my country when it needed me, but the residuals, the benefits of service, weren't that bad either.
I took full advantage of the well-known G.I. Bill of Rights (Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944). I completed my undergraduate education at EKU and earned a Master's degree at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., and had three house loans underwritten by the law.
The G.I. Bill of Rights is significant and groundbreaking because its enactment was looking out for veterans four years before the U.S. military was desegregated!
The aim was to help returning servicemen readjust to civilian life after their lives were preempted by war. A grateful nation realized that veterans' lives and earning capabilities were put on hold while fighting against foreign aggression, defending our country, and that a helping hand and assistance was in order.
I've since found out that too many people of color weren't given the opportunity to benefit from their military service, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.
There is so much personal good wrapped up in military service -- the comradeship shared by different individuals from all walks of life, the reality of "one for all and all for one," along with the shared commitment to one another in defense of the nation.
But, alas, just below the surface of shared sacrifice and service lies the embarrassment of racism and its ill effects.
As the nation struggles to confront the root causes of racism we uncover yet another layer of systemic racism.
Little did I know that as I've extolled the virtues of the G.I. Bill of Rights and the positive impact it had on me and my family, some people who served -- and look like me -- didn't reap the benefits I did.
While many in our midst would ask, "Why is this particular issue so important now? Can't we just let it go?"
I really do and I'd love to let it go, especially as I've sat amongst fellow veterans at countless Veterans Day celebrations down through the years.
Standing together, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, saluting Old Glory, recalling our shared dedication to duty -- Patriots all -- sharing military experiences which bonded us forever is something meaningful and solid.
That's the good stuff.
But what about the other stuff?
By denying honorably discharged veterans of color access to low-interest mortgages, job skills training, low interest loans, unemployment benefits, and other earned advantages, families of those veterans, most notably those of WW II, have suffered.
Were African Americans denied, overlooked or left out due to lack of information or misinformation?
Whatever the causes or reasons, "justice delayed is justice denied," so said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recent and current generations of Americans are becoming more enlightened and aware of long-standing inequities in our national makeup.
Despite living in an era of pandemic politics, our nation is coming to terms with institutional racism.
It's often uncomfortable to talk about, but none the less, necessary. As the wealth gap between Blacks and other Americans widen, we can look at what happened to African American veterans of WW II as one of the prime reasons.
Anyone can readily see that access to adequate housing, education, business loans and personal loans would give families and household heads opportunities to substantially improve the socioeconomic futures of upcoming generations.
Simply put, generational wealth is grown when socioeconomic 'layers' of achievement and success begins to stack up.
One million or so African Americans entered the United States military to fight in WW II.
Think about it.
What if those returning veterans had been free to fully exercise their G.I Bill rights, being able to participate and contribute to their nation's bounty?
Think about the collective socioeconomic impact of the four generations of African Americans since the end of WW II.
Consider the tangible contributions and benefits to the nation's abundance as a direct result of such generational success.
Military personnel records are some of the best maintained records we have. We're good at investigating and getting to the bottom of things.
So, let's get busy to correct some of the glaring wrongs committed against those WWII veterans of color by making contact with them and/or their descendants to at least attempt to do the right thing.
Future generations of Americans will continue the fight for equality for all our citizens, but there is much we can do now.