Beyond Ordinary: America's freedom fighters of color: Heroes proved in liberating strife

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Across the wilderness.

America! America!

God mend thy every flaw

Confirm thy soul in self-control

Thy liberty in law.

The words also perfectly illustrate the bona fide and never-ending need for American patriots, both in and out of uniform. That need has existed since colonists inhabited this land. American patriots of color have served selflessly and honorably in fulfilling that need since before the nation was established. They will continue to do so until the end.

American history is replete with examples of patriots of color who have done so much for a nation that did not reciprocate such service, honor and protection. Black, Latino and Native American men and women have served our nation in every war and conflict since the American Revolution. Asian American and Pacific Islander men and women have served and fought on behalf of the United States since the War of 1812. Numerous persons of every ethnic group have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration given by the United States government.

Perhaps no conflict and era in American history represents the character and soul of American patriots of color more than World War II. For those with more than a vague familiarity of U.S. history, the mere mention of groups such as the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo code talkers, the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the 158th Regimental Combat Team, and the WACs and WAVEs evokes emotions of awe, inspiration and deep gratitude.

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American pilots associated with the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. They were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces.

At a time when African-Americans in many U.S. states still were subject to racist Jim Crow laws and while the American military was racially segregated, the Tuskegee Airmen overcame the obstacles and challenges of being subject to racial discrimination, both within and outside the Army. Despite these adversities, they trained and flew with distinction for our country, becoming one of the most revered group of military aviators in America’s history.

The Navajo code talkers were a small band of Native American soldiers who created an unbreakable code from the ancient language of their ancestors and changed the course of modern history. When America's so-called best cryptographers were falling short, these young Navajo men put off the history of mistreatment and injustice shown their people by the U.S. government and sacrificed for the betterment of all Americans and the world. They braved the dense jungles of Guadalcanal and the exposed beachheads of Iwo Jima to transmit secret communications on the battlefields of World War II.

These modest sheepherders and farmers were able to fashion the most ingenious and successful code in military history, drawing upon their proud warrior tradition to serve with distinction in every major engagement of the Pacific theater from 1942 to 1945. Their unbreakable code played a pivotal role in saving countless lives and did much to hasten the war's end.

In the wake of Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, many U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were classified as "enemy aliens." On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the relocation and internment of approximately 110,000 Japanese-Americans and Japanese who lived along the Pacific Coast of the United States to camps called "war relocation camps."

In Hawaii, 1,200 to 1,800 Japanese-Americans were interned. Still, a battalion of Nisei volunteers, many of whom had family members interned, was formed in May 1942 as the 100th Infantry Battalion. While fighting in Italy, they saw fierce combat and came to be known as the "Purple Heart Battalion" due to their high casualty rate.

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