Monday, November 9, 2015

On Veterans Day – Never Mind

Fifty years have passed since I last saw many of my high school classmates. Frankly, I could have waited another 50 before seeing them again.
No bitterness here, just the realization that most of them remain so out of touch with the sacrifices and service made by me and a handful of their Vietnam veteran classmates. That our McKinley Tech Class of '65 reunion committee in Washington never thought of recognizing their veteran classmates shouldn't have come as a surprise.
After all, when it comes to those Americans who halted teenage lives to join the military for wartime service to this country, self-fulfillment, self-indulgence and outright hatred for the war were ways of life for the non-serving. Few in power even wanted to admit it was a war, with politicians and the media alike euphemistically calling it "the Vietnam conflict."
Still, this slight may have hurt the most, more than being slurred by fellow Americans, of being spat on and turned down for jobs because of the myth that Vietnam veterans were “crazy” and “baby killers,” even after decades of rejected Agent Orange claims and Vietnam buddies' deaths at the hands of the Veterans Administration.
One would have thought that my ex-classmates would have been the first to celebrate our collective sacrifice, that they knew and appreciated that it was also for their future security that we enlisted or were drafted. I allow that maybe they couldn’t have understood the political ramifications of the Vietnam War, but I thought surely they, as witnesses to headlines and history, would have celebrated their old classmates who became casualties of war in one way or the other.
I don’t know whether I should be ashamed of them or for myself for daring to suggest that their weekend of reunion memories should have included a brief recognition of their veteran classmates. Most of those things school chums at my predominantly black high school's graduating class (99 percent) went on to college, created successful careers in education, government, law, medicine – you name it, these middle-class children did it. For me, I had little choice except join the military. My parents weren’t able to afford college and, frankly, my grades were only so-so back then. 
So, it took me a few years to catch up after my four-year Air Force enlistment. It took 10 years to earn that bachelor’s degree. After my cut-rate GI Bill for college stipend ran out in three years, I left college to work full-time as a court stenographer, later re-enrolling to get that elusive degree in journalism. My professional life has since taken me around the globe and across this nation as a newspaper reporter, editor, college professor and public relations practitioner.
This Veterans Day, and with each passing November 11th I find the moment less authentic. For me, and I am sure with countless other Vietnam vets, “the Vietnam conflict” simply mirrors the widening schism between those who served in the most unpopular war in American history and the rest of the nation. Today, less than 1 percent of all Americans are in the uniformed services. That’s the lowest percentage of Americans in uniform in the last 100 years. Most military families will attest to their second-class status as citizens, with many depending on food stamps and food banks while their loved ones are deployed.
Seems that this country – along with my now-senior citizen classmates – remain all too happy to get on with their lives and leave the fighting to someone else. National service was and tragically remains absent from the American agenda.
So be it! It will be the nation's loss, sadly, when most Americans fail to have their own skins in the game of serving this great country.
As for us Vietnam Vets, we are more than willing to thank our own selves for our service. We did our duty – no thank you is necessary.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Duane, Larry and Jimmy: yesterday's heroes, today's conscience

Duane, Larry & Jimmy: Yesterday’s Heroes, Today’s Conscience

January 1, 2011 at 5:11pm
Duane D. Jackson, 63, a Times Square street vendor, saved New York and the country as a whole from a tragedy that could have derailed our peace of mind and sense of security. Jackson risked his life when he peered into a suspiciously smoking SUV. He immediately summoned a police officer, who then cleared out the tourist-heavy district as the country watched and prayed.

Jackson is a Vietnam veteran.

Larry Platt, 62, took the nation by storm on last year’s “American Idol” auditions with a side-splitting, mocking message to America’s black youth:

Pants on the groundPants on the groundLookin' like a fool with your pants on the groundWith the gold in your mouthHat turned sidewaysPants hit the groundCall yourself a cool catlookin' like a foolWalkin' downtown with your pants on the ground, get it upHey, get your pants off the groundLookin' like a foolWalkin', talkin' with your pants on the groundGet it up; hey! Get your pants off the groundLookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground

Too old to go beyond auditions, the message resonated with TV hosts and celebrity everywhere.

Platt is a Vietnam veteran.

Jimmy McMillan has a painfully clear mantra: The rent is too damn high, and it's hurting the economy, not to mention the quality of life of New York, his home city. Hailing from Flatbush, Brooklyn, the 63-year-old didn't win the state’s gubernatorial election -- though he did receive an astonishing 40,916 votes, which was 0.9 percent of the total. But for a while, he won the hearts of struggling Americans and earned a host of Internet tributes. He became a 2010 cult hero, showing courage in the face of inestimable odds to tell the nation that something was terribly wrong with our economy.

McMillan is a Vietnam veteran.

By now, you might have guessed that I love black Vietnam veterans. Now in their senior years, they went to that war young and drafted, baby boomers with little opportunity, but they were young men who saw their way to a good future through life-threatening service to their country.

Today, as America is ensnarled in another conflict of questionable merit, with trillions of dollars siphoned from economic progress, another group of American heores will need your support when they return home.

And while one might question how well Duane, Larry and Jimmy individually won their shares of the American Dream, no one can doubt that their ethos of service to America has ever waned. They, like many veterans from all of our wars, continue to push the envelope for the sake of others.

That is our hope for tomorrow. That is the lesson we learned in Vietnam.


Since my youth, my only 'crime' has been my skin color

Since my youth, my only 'crime' has been my skin color

I didn't sleep well last night. Was up until 4 a.m., I guess too wound up to let my body do its job over my mental anguish of seeing a human being -- a BLACK human being, like myself -- murdered before my eyes. 
I spent much of the day after the fateful video surfaced reading the comments from various news sites. To be sure, 95% of them were equally appalled. I found, and verified the irony of ex-police officer Michael Slager's surname. In the Dutch language, "Slager" means "butcher shop." 
I ran back my own memory of being stopped by police...once as a 16-year-old high schooler, while walking to the bus stop after a classmate's birthday party. I was accused of stealing a car. Again, I was walking.
I was stopped in Prince George's County on my birthday (some 40 years ago) for speeding. I knew there was a cop car behind me, and knew the highway I was on, so I slowed down. Nonetheless, the officer lit me up, pulled me over and cited me for speeding. I went to court, armed with a photograph I had taken of the speed sign showing 35 mph. I didn't need that proof, however; the cop never showed and the case was dismissed. But I lost a day's pay back in the day for that foolishness.
It was 1985 in New Jersey, when I was pulled over by a state trooper on the NJ Turnpike; I had just relocated from The Miami Herald, and had Florida tags. The trooper did his usual protocol of running my tags, etc. About 20 minutes later, he returned to my car and said I could go, offering a lame explanation that there were a lot of drugs running up from Florida and that was why he pulled me over. Then, he had the audacity to ask me why I was even in New Jersey.
I told him, "I just relocated here from Florida. I am the new city editor of The (Bergen) Record," and I'm on my way to work. His face turned fire-engine red. 
Today, more than ever, I shudder that there are few black journalists in America's newsrooms to fight the power that be. I am no public enemy. Peace!