In a week when America is in unrest and uncertainty, I’m reminded as we today observe Veteran’s Day what deep veins of connection we have to those brave Americans who sacrificed all to preserve our freedom.
I’m moved to share that if you are homeschooling, this is a good opportunity—with “race” so prominent in our daily discourse—to share with your children the history of the too often overlooked African American connection with the Jewish community. In the final push of World War II, it was a large contingency of American soldiers—a number of them in segregated African American units—who rolled into Holland in 1945 to defeat the Nazis and free the Jews from the stranglehold of the German occupation. Thousands of Dutch Jews had been rounded up and sent to concentration camps in a country ravaged by the horrors of genocide, hunger and starvation.
I’m wondering with the history of America now so abbreviated, how many of our children even know that thousands of our Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, and why?
When the fighting ended and Europe was liberated from the Nazi occupation, thousands of American soldiers had given their lives on foreign soil—more than 8,200 of them laid to rest on Dutch soil at Margraten. This cemetery is a true memorial considered “hallowed ground” in the same way we in America honor Arlington. Each grave has found an adoptive Dutch family—many of them Jewish—that makes sure the grave of their soldier is well cared for and fresh flowers are regularly placed. Many Dutch families have for decades communicated across the ocean with survivors of the loved one whose grave is in their care. Tragically the black units who served too often had no traceable families as segregated units routinely had poorly maintained or missing records on their soldiers. Still, they are honored by the living.
Black veterans who fought in the war too often came back home to America to realize the real battle had only just begun. They arrived in an environment where they themselves were not treated as free men. In 1946, President Truman was quoted as saying “My stomach turns to realize that African American soldiers just back from overseas are being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and being beaten.” Truman appointed the President’s Council on Civil Rights which oversaw a revolutionary report in 1947, condemning segregation and demanding action to end discrimination based on race, color, creed or national origins in all branches of the U.S. military.
This year in 2020, the Embassy in the Netherlands marked the 75th Anniversary of the country’s liberation by a special commemoration of the black soldiers that risked their lives to end the German occupation. The oldest survivor honored is now 95.
How sad that the majority of young people filling America’s streets with “Black Lives Matter” posters have never been taught the rich history of America to know black lives have deeply mattered in the truest sense of the word and that they can take pride in their heritage. We are all threads in the fabric of a glorious nation. The footprints of courageous men are still found in our thriving economy, our liberty, and our hearts and minds. Freedom sways in the wind while our flag flutters in peace.
As we honor our Veterans, we must teach our children. They must never forget.