PENN: Facing casualties of war

Angela Penn

This one is for you Cortez, rest easy son, your watch is over.

This column will be one of the most difficult pieces I will ever write. Our armed forces have an ongoing history of racism, discrimination and bigotry.

Africans have fought in many wars for the freedom and protection of others only to be cast back into slavery after the wars were won. History records black soldiers as brave and proud to serve, but not equal to those they fought so gallantly for.

Crispus Attucks an African-American male was the first casualty of war in the Boston Massacre, a little-known fact by most people. Thousands of black soldiers from all 13 colonies enslaved and free would fight in the American Revolution to help America win its freedom from Great Britain. Of those thousands only about 20 percent received their freedom.

History records 186,000 black soldiers participating in the Civil War with 38,000 reported as killed in battle. We are yet fighting for equality. Black soldiers have been used in every war to defend this country only to come home to fight for their right to exist in a country they defended.

“It is impossible to create a dual personality which will be on the one hand a fighting man toward the enemy, and on the other, a craven who will accept treatment as less than a man at home.” – Bryon Stevenson

It is inconceivable to imagine a country asking or demanding loyalty from people whom it has enslaved and treated as a commodity. This is exactly what America did and continues to do. The Vietnam War sticks out in my mind because my spiritual father, the late James Fredrick Moffett served two tours in Vietnam. 

Shortly after he entered the army, the barracks were integrated. James could pass as black or white during those days. He was in the barracks with white men. Whoever was in charge notified the men in their barracks they would have to share their area with a (N-word). One of the soldiers turned to James and said, “Did you hear that? We’re getting a (N-word) in here. James response was quite comical, “What did you say? We can’t have that!” 

James point to sharing this story was, you don’t have to answer to or be what someone decides to call you.

Many black soldiers fought overseas only to come home to be murdered by angry racists despising their skin color still wanting them to sit in the back, step aside, don’t look a white person in the eye and to be called a boy. America did much worse to the soldiers than any war ever could.

Presently some Americans pretend to be upset about all of our soldiers and veterans being disrespected, what a joke. 

Our children are sent to fight in wars that old men start and never finish. Our sons and daughters come home a mental wreck. They are ignored, left to fend for themselves and most are not able. Some soldiers die in the battle and we bury them while others die mentally and take a little longer to die physically. 

My son, Cortez Amele Johnson, was one of those soldiers who came home dead inside. Only 18 years old, tossed on the infantry frontline from day one of the War on Iraq. Cortez’s last year in the army was in 2009 but his body did not die until July 14, 2019.

I often wondered why or how our veterans could live on the streets or hide from family. I know the answers now. They are protecting themselves the only way they know how. 

Watching someone you love struggle between reality and a no longer existing war zone without being able to help them is so painful but not nearly as painful as the reality they live in. Most never receive the help or benefits they so richly deserve.

We quickly forget those soldiers, my soldier once was a baby, an adorable smart little boy whose big heart and warm smile wanted to make everyone happy. Our children who have served in the armed forces deserve the best of care, not this lip service they are given. 

We must do better. Our soldiers saved us; shouldn’t we do the same thing for them?

Angela Penn is a resident of Valdosta. 

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