I shouldn't be the only one posting something like this today. If I'm not,
that's great. If I am, well, hopefully it will inspire some people.
How many of you have heard of the USS Mason? There have been three US Navy
ships with that name, including an Aegis destroyer, but I'm talking about
the one that was commissioned on 20 March, 1944. This one was an experiment
in the integration of the US Armed Forces. It had an all-Black enlisted
crew and an all-White command staff. The crew faced the discrimination
you'd expect given that time in American history. They were refused the
deferential treatment accorded to white sailors in ports like Norfolk,
Virginia and Plymouth, England, and people in their own government seemed
to be working against them, yet the crew of the Mason served their ship and
their country with the same pride and commitment to excellence as any white
crew. This is borne out by their actions on October 18, 1944 when, faced
with violently bad weather and a ship that began to succumb to the stress,
they kept the Mason afloat and led a convoy of barges to safety in an
English port, without the assistance they called for but never received.
I'd say the experiment was a success.
How many of you know about the war record of an actor named Jimmy Stewart?
He enlisted in the Army in 1941 with a pilot's license and a desire to fly
in combat. At first, naturally, he was used mostly for publicity, but he
eventually qualified in and flew B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. He flew a
total of twenty combat missions, served as a group operations officer and
squadron commander, and earned several medals, including the Distinguished
Flying Cross. After the war, he served in the US Air Force Reserve, from
which he retired in 1968 at the rank of Brigadier General.
A lot of actors pay lip service to patriotism lately. It's nice to remember
that there were some who actually backed up their words with deeds.
What made these men do what they did? Why risk the ultimate sacrifice, face
bias in the form of racism in one instance and the notion of being worth
nothing more than a recruiting op in another? It's because upon their entry
into the Armed Forces, whether as draftees or as volunteers, they accepted
a trust. They were asked to stand against people who would take away our
lives and our freedom and they resolved themselves to doing just that. They
may have had reservations or fears, but they didn't let those things stop
them from doing what they felt was right for their families, for their
neighbors and for their country.
To remember men like these, and the men and women of today's Armed Forces,
is why Memorial Day exists. Begun as a day to remember Confederate war
dead, it has become a day to honor all those who have made the ultimate
sacrifice in the defense of the United States of America. I think it's
important that we remember that.