On a visit to any Veterans Administration Hospital today, you can see many aging warriors slowly navigating the hospital corridors. Crutches, scooters, wheelchairs, or walkers often aid their mobility, and many wear ball caps with the words, "World War II Vet." Hard of hearing, balding, stooped with age – it is hard to imagine these once were strapping youths now trapped inside the aging bodies of the men and women of the "greatest generation."
That is how former news anchor Tom Brokaw describes the men and women who lived through World War II in his 1998 book The Greatest Generation. This is especially true of men like my brother, Chief Steward Samuel Powell, and other African American invisible warriors who served during that war. However, military and government officials often had low expectations of African Americans, but these men and women performed well above expectations.
Case in point: one black infantry division that saw combat in Europe—the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division. With more than 12,000 men, the Buffalo Division was activated in October 1942 and went to Europe in 1944, where they entered combat in Italy. The Italian campaign was difficult but the men of the 92nd distinguished themselves in battle, fighting their way up the coast and eventually capturing about one million men. It also suffered horrendous casualties.
Some of the men traversing VA Hospital corridors today served with the 92nd. Numerous writers' have told their story – some positive, some negative accounts of the 92nd's exploits. Several 92nd Division soldiers share their experience on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5QtpiP-Lb0&feature=related.
Another 92nd soldier, James (Pat) Daugherty, 85, shares his memories with Smithsonian writer Abby Callard in Memoirs of a World War II Buffalo Soldier, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Memoirs-of-a-World-War-II-Buffalo-Soldier-.html. Daugherty self-published his story, The Buffalo Saga. Callard writes that Daugherty's book is a "raw, unvarnished, often angry account of a decorated young soldier’s encounter with institutionalized racial prejudice." Read more about Daugherty at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Memoirs-of-a-World-War-II-Buffalo-Soldier-.html#ixzz0fN3dEP71.
Before too long, the valiant soldiers of the 92nd – as well as those of so many other units, ships, and air wings that have incredible stories to tell – will all disappear. It is important to listen to their stories, read their stories, share their stories and say "THANK YOU" while there is still time to do so.
Copyright © 2009 by Sharon Dense Powell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED