We’re never far from the Civil War, woven into our conscious and unconscious. Arlington Estate was owned by Mary Custis Lee, descendent of Martha Washington and spouse of Robert E. Lee. The estate was seized by the US Army in 1861. Its grounds included Freedman’s Village, for freed and escaped slaves. In 1864, part of the estate became Arlington National Cemetery. Black soldiers were buried in Section 27. Arlington remained segregated by rank and race until 1948.
Of 3,525 Medals of Honor, 3,000 were pre-World War I, with 473 World War II honorees. Since 1916, the Medal has become more rare, yet more fair. Since the end of World War II, over two dozen Medals have been awarded to men who were denied the Medal during the war due to their race, ethnicity, or religion. In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal to seven African Americans (who fought in WW2). Three years later, President Clinton presented 22 Japanese American veterans with the Medal of Honor.
Of the seven blacks honored In 1997, Vernon Baker was the only one still alive. The Korean War brought 146 recipients, including the last two African Americans to receive the Medal for service in a segregated unit: Cornelius Charlton and William Henry Thompson. The 250 Vietnam War recipients include 22 African Americans. James Anderson, Jr., was the first black Marine recipient. A month after his 20th birthday, Anderson covered an enemy grenade with his body just before it exploded.
These stories–going back to the Revolutionary War–amplify the absurd fear of “replacement.” The question is whether we who are late to the party (the real “replacements”) will sing in gratitude:
Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, their country loved
And mercy more than life.