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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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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 frontsthe 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 Tarvers evocative, dignified portraits, juxtaposed with early snapshots of the youthful soldiers, frame each testimony. The volume doesnt break new ground, but offers a celebration of unsung heroes and an important historical document.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.
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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If I have one minor complaint (the reason for the four, rather than five-star rating), it's that some of the narratives are just too short. The reader sometimes only gets two to three page thumbnail sketches of some very fascinating individuals, who suffered through the privations of German stalags or the liberating of the concentration camps. It would have been nice to see some of these very abbreviated tales expanded, if not to book length, then at least to more than a couple of mere pages.
The above is a fairly minor cavil, though, against a book that, as a veteran, and as an American, I found to be an illuminating, and above all necessary reading experience.
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!
Latty has brought together a wonderfully rich and diverse collection of voices. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps are all represented, as are both the enlisted and officer ranks. I was especially happy to see six women veterans (representing service in WW2, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War) among the group. The veterans in the book also represent a wide range of different military occupations: medic, pilot, tank crew member, postal clerk, Navy steward, infantryman, flight nurse, surgical nurse, cook, and more. The POW experience in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam is also given voice. Among the veterans are two who achieved general officer rank in the Army and one who became a Navy Vice Admiral.
In the overall sweep of these voices the reader can chart the U.S. armed services' progress in desegregation and equal opportunity. The group recalls not only incidents of racism and discrimination, but also proud milestones on this long journey. Many of the veterans speak frankly of the horrors of war, including the carnage of Iwo Jima, the terror of a Gulf War scud attack, and the shock of the 9/11 attacks. Military nurses recall the horrific wounds suffered by some of their patients. There are some profoundly moving passages, such as one WW2 veteran's account of his friendship with a Holocaust survivor, or a Vietnam War POW's description of his reunion with his family. Also noteworthy are a WW2 POW's memory of his shocking argument with an arrogant German SS officer, and an Air Force officer's description of perilous air missions over wartime Afghanistan.
These compelling stories are superbly complemented by Tarver's photographs. He captures many different moods in these boldly individualized portraits: dramatic, heartwarming, haunting, and even whimsical. His work is truly striking. Latty and Tarver have assembled a wonderful tribute to the men and women who fought for their country while at the same time breaking down barriers of unjust discrimination. "We Were There" is a superb contribution to both military history and African American studies.