Fourth of July Remembrance
This time of year we reflect back on this nations birth 239 years ago and the military struggles we have been engaged in since in order to maintain our freedom.
Each of us have served or have family members who have served over the years. Betty's family began that military service in the Revolutionary war and the last was her young brother Mike in Iraq.
Today I want to address those Veterans we do not generally think of who have served this country over the past 239 years.
The New York Daily News published an article in February 2013 which stated: "The story of African-Americans fighting and dying for America is not new. It’s older than the nation itself. In every war and conflict fought by the United States, from Colonial times to Iraq and Afghanistan today, blacks have been on the front lines, shedding blood for liberty and justice that hasn't always been there for them at home.
Why would you fight for a country that treated you like a second-class citizen?” asked Frank Martin, writer-producer and director of the 2010 documentary “For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots,” about African-Americans who fought for America. “They did it for the love of liberty. They did it so that they could enjoy the benefits and fruits of liberty that were promised all Americans, and they continued to fight for it until they got it,” said Martin a reporter for the New York Daily News.
Martin’s award-winning documentary outlined the extent of black combat service to this nation since the Revolutionary War. Research showed that black combatants made up:
- More than 5,000 of the soldiers in the American Revolution and as many as to 10% of the sailors in the War of 1812.
- More than 200,000 in the Civil War.
- More than 380,000 in World War I.
- More than the combined 2 million military personnel in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
But despite their numbers and heroism, many of their accomplishments have remained largely anonymous."
A Veteran has been define as one who has written a blank check made payable to the American people for an amount up to and including his or her life.
One such Veteran was a young man I knew personally, WO1 Prince Alexander was assigned to the 174th Assault Helicopter Company in June 1967 and came under my command in the 2nd Flight Platoon until I rotated home in early September 1967.
Warrant Officer Alexander is remember by one excerpt contained in the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association which reads as follows:
WO1 Prince Alexander was a potential VHPA member who died after his tour in Vietnam on 02/18/1984 at the age of 37 from Private single engine plane crash in heavy fog near Oaktown, IND.
Only Black to graduate with class that started as 66-23.
Flight Class 67-1/66-23
Date of Birth 01/07/1947
Served in the U.S. Army
Served in Vietnam with 174 AHC in 66-67
The other notation appears on the 174th AHC web page (www.174ahc.org) and reads as follows:
19 Oct 67
II Corp Republic of South Vietnam
WO1 Dennis Blackmon died in an aircraft crash west of Duc Pho enroute to LZ OD he was flying with WO1 Prince Alexander, who survived the crash but was thrown out of the aircraft still in his seat, landing in a water-filled rice paddy with the seat on its side.
The aircraft came to a rest on top of him and his seat, pinning Alexander in his seat, almost under water. Blackmon was killed during the crash sequence. Alexander was knocked unconscious. WO1 Russell Doersam was the first Dolphin to arrive on the scene and he held Alexander's head out of the water until help arrived and they were able to get Alexander unpinned from his seat. Alexander was severely injured and medevaced back to the States. The photo of the accident showed the path of the aircraft after it hit the wet rice paddy and slid to the far dike. The tailboom and part of the rotor system rested in the middle of the paddy, to the right of the aircraft's skidmarks.
A terrible experience and payment on the blank check he wrote to this country when he enlisted and applied to flight school.
Now let me tell you the real story of his heroism. Not only was he the only African American in his flight school class, when he was assigned to the 2nd Platoon under my command in June 1967 he was the only African American pilot in the 174th AHC among 70 white pilots.
Shortly after he was cleared to fly by our check pilot the other pilots in the 2nd platoon complained to me that he was not safe. I listened and then had him fly with me over about the next 2-3 weeks and found him to be an excellent pilot and a nice guy. I suspected the complaints were not about his competence as a pilot but because of his skin color.
With his permission I called a platoon meeting and confronted the complaints directly. I informed our platoon, officers and enlisted together, that Prince was one of us and a valued addition to our unit and he would be assigned in the regular rotation of flight assignments.
There were no complaints the remainder of my tour which ended 2 1/2 months later when I rotated home.
About 5 years ago his daughter Tanya Alexander posted on the 174th web site a request that if anyone knew her father and could tell her about his time in the 174th AHC. I was moved by her request and compelled to write about all the positive experiences involving her father.
Those of us who served in Vietnam faced the same enemy, the Viet Cong. Prince also faced the enemy within the service, prejudice, and did it with dignity and a resolve to write that blank check that all Veterans do. Fortunately his check was not cashed.
I will always remember Prince and the opportunity to share our mutual experience of brothers in arms and life with his daughter Tanya and trust it helped her fill in the blank spaces about her father.
Respectfully in Remembrance of those with whom I served.
July 4, 2015