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We Were There: Voices of African American Veterans, from World War II to the War in Iraq Paperback – February 1, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Taking a cue from Bloods, the bestselling 1984 oral history of black Vietnam War veterans, Philadelphia Daily News reporter Latty allows 28 veterans from five wars, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, do the talking in this affecting volume. The stories tell of college dropouts who were drafted into service, eager adventurers seeing the world courtesy of Uncle Sam and dedicated career soldiers pursuing lifelong dreams. The military, often praised as an engine of integration, receives a more nuanced evaluation here: several veterans look back on battles on two fronts—the first against foreign enemies and the second against bigoted white comrades-in-arms. Leonard Smith offers a heartbreaking memory of passing out sweets to just-freed concentration camp survivors; Waverly B. Woodson, Jr. describes landing at Omaha Beach: "If you ever want to know what hell is like, D day was it." Former World War II, Korea and Vietnam POWs add unsettling glimpses into their harrowing ordeals. Veterans of the Gulf War tell more upbeat stories, remembering their military service with pride and, in some cases, affection. Female perspectives on race and war also command attention: a World War II Army private, one of about 800 black women deployed to Europe to sort mail, still marvels over the European crowds that cheered her unit in parades; two Vietnam nurses share frank, heart-stopping accounts of combat zone carnage. Award-winning photographer Ron Tarver’s evocative, dignified portraits, juxtaposed with early snapshots of the youthful soldiers, frame each testimony. The volume doesn’t break new ground, but offers a celebration of unsung heroes and an important historical document.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The short pieces by African American combat veterans of the past 60 years that make up this collection succinctly describe the authors' backgrounds; the kinds of fighting they did, both in the field and against racism; and the lifetime effects of their military service. It is illustrated with photographs of the writers at the time of their service and as they appear today. For anyone reasonably well acquainted with American military history since the beginning of World War II, the book contains nothing new, and that includes even the number of women contributors to it. Just for that reason, however, it provides an excellent introduction to combat experience for almost all but the youngest, least experienced readers. It is especially commendable as a resource for anyone trying to put together a Memorial Day or Veteran's Day project, since it puts the African American experience in the broader context of American military history in general. Perhaps it is of particular value to smaller collections. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060751592
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060751593
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Brown on November 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Through the reflections of the 28 Veterans in WE WERE THERE, we see how racism affected Americans who willingly served their country which only gave lip service to the words: "freedom and justice for all". These men & women signed up during times of war often eagerly, sometimes as the only way to get out of trouble. Even as they served in a community that belittled them, they were willing to give their all.

It's as if going to war against our enemies wasn't enough, to be an African American, you had to survive, as these Veterans' stories ably show, soul-crushing racism within the military. Executive Order 9981 signed in 1948 was supposed to have changed all of that. As these reminiscents show, it took decades to defeat racism within the armed services so they could become truly integrated.

RebeccasReads highly recommends WE WERE THERE as a unique & exceptional glimpse into what it was like to be an African American in the armed forces since World War II.

Could have had 50 voices & not been repetitive. Could not put it down!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Phrawm47 on August 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I came across "We Were There" in the new books section of my library. I'm glad I picked it up -- it's a prettily written and photographed collection of reminisces by African-American men and women who served our country from World War II to Iraq.

One of the things I especially enjoyed were the dual photographs of all the interviewees, one from the period when they were serving in the military and one taken when they were interviewed for the book. Ron Tarver lit and framed his subjects from the same angle as their earlier photographs, allowing you to compare the adult that was to come in their young face with the young person that remains in their adult face.

At a time when presidential candidates are bickering over the legitimacy of their opponent's military record, "We Were There" reminds us of the selfless, and essentially thankless -- if even that -- contributions and sacrifices made by America's men and women of color.

As the title of my review says, this serious recreational reader found this to be a sweet little gem of a book.
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Format: Paperback
From the first days of the United States, blacks have served with distinction in the military. The term "Buffalo Soldiers" was coined by the native Americans, when seeing the black soldiers, they thought that they looked like the Buffalo. Blacks fought in all wars, but it was not until recently that they were respected for their actions. The lowest point was probably the Spanish-American War, a large percentage of the officers in the American Army were ex-Confederate officers. With segregation and racial bigotry firmly re-entrenched in America, even though they fought well, the black soldiers were very poorly treated.

This book is the result of a series of interviews with black veterans from World War II up through the current war in Iraq. The early stories are difficult to read, while they fiercely defended their country with honor, the black World War II veterans came back to a nation that refused to give them even minimal rights. Fortunately, as the stories move through the subsequent wars, there is a change. To his eternal credit, Harry Truman ordered the military de-segregated. While some officers resisted, the military was ahead of nearly all the rest of the country in allowing blacks to compete in a meritocracy. The only other organization that may have been ahead of the military was professional sports.

By the end of the story, blacks are succeeding and there are interviews with generals and admirals. While the first part was difficult to read, when no black was allowed to rise above a menial level and no black was ever in command of whites, by the end it had changed. The personal pride that these people showed in their accomplishments is uplifting and all Americans owe these pioneers a deep debt of gratitude for helping save the country and make it better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on October 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
WE WERE THERE is a collection of photographs, brief biographies, and first hand accounts from African American men and women who have served in the armed forces during times of war. These first hand accounts include stories from veterans that served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, The Persian Gulf War and the ongoing War on Terror. The author includes veterans from many different parts of the United States and includes most branches of the military. It would be a disservice to select a few of the people included in this collection, as each individual made an important contribution to our national history and security and each of their stories touched me in a different way.

WE WERE THERE is a book that should be a part of every library, particularly those in African American homes. While the book is targeted to adults, the language and format of the book lends itself to be easily used with children and even in classroom settings. These veterans, ordinary people like you and me, have had extraordinary experiences defending the United States and the ideal it represents in spite of the obstacles such as racism, sexism and dangerous warfare, that they encountered. I particularly enjoyed the fact, that the book uses the words of the men and women who are relating the experiences, allowing the individuals to have their own voice. And the voices shared in this collection will educate as well as inspire.

Reviewed by Stacey Seay

of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
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