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We’ve been on the same team forever

Melvin B. Miller
We’ve been on the same team forever
“We’ve come to help.”

The United States is again involved in a world war, 75 years after the German surrender on May 7, 1945 to end World War II. However, this is not a customary conflict with hostile nations opposing one another on the battlefield. This is a global confrontation with a deadly virus. On March 11, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 had become a pandemic.

Countries have to cope with various infectious diseases that can become epidemics, but the range of the new coronavirus has become even more extensive. COVID-19, the disease from the coronavirus, has spread to over 110 countries and now has to be considered as pandemic. In the short period of its appearance in the United States it has killed more than 65,000 people. This is a level of fatalities greater than most shooting wars in such a short period of only three months.

The equal rights circumstances of African Americans today are quite different from their status 75 years ago. When the country entered World War II after the Pearl Harbor bombing on Dec. 7, 1941, it was not permitted for black men to be combat soldiers. But the first act of heroism by a black military man occurred at that time. Doris Miller, who was a mess attendant, removed his wounded captain to safety on the embattled ship, West Virginia, and then manned a .50-caliber machine gun to fire at strafing planes.

After Allied troops landed at Normandy and pushed on into Europe, it became a major challenge to maintain the supply lines. The Army Quartermaster Corps established the Red Ball Express to transport gasoline, food and ammunition to the front. Involved were 23,000 drivers and mechanics, 75% of whom were black. Driving loaded deuce-and-a-half trucks for 24 hours a day, they became favored targets of the Germans. The courage and efficiency of the Red Ball Express men became legendary.

In the U.S. Air Force, the combat record of the Tuskegee Airmen is well known. College-age black men were trained at Tuskegee Institute to be pilots. The fighter pilots became well known by their red tail planes. The program produced 355 active fighter pilots who protected American planes on bombing raids. They destroyed 251 enemy planes, while providing greater security for U.S. bombing missions. Tuskegee’s pilots received 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

The expectation that blacks would be unreliable in battle proved to be mistaken. President Harry S. Truman decided to remove racial discrimination from the American military. On July 26, 1948, Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to eliminate racial discrimination in the military. Now there are high-ranking black officers in all branches of the service. Colin Powell, who was appointed general in 1989, has become especially well known because he also served as secretary of state to President George W. Bush.

Although racial discrimination persists in much of American society, it is generally agreed that the desegregation of the military has been an extraordinarily successful policy. It was established at a time when it was clear and obvious that the nation would benefit against an insidious enemy if the citizens were united in a common cause.

Not much imagination is required to view the coronavirus as a demonic force, capable of destroying the strength of a nation whose highest intention was to create a democratic and humanistic civilization. It is easy to see that the destructive power implicit in the coronavirus would not support that mission.

But every day, as first responders, medical professionals and those who risk their own well-being to assist others come forward, it must be noted that they are members of every racial group or ethnicity. At a time of great danger, Americans have always joined together to confront the crisis. We did so after the 9/11 attack.

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