African-American vets of the 1970s honored

Published on Sunday, 19 January 2014 23:35 - Written by FAITH HARPER fharper@tylerpaper.com

Generations of African American servicemen and women were honored in a special ceremony Sunday afternoon.

The third annual Texas African American Soldiers Recognition Day was held at the North Star Missionary Baptist Church.

Roderick C. White, an attorney and veteran, said he served as a platoon leader in Korea for 13 months in the late 1990s and was never once disrespected. No one questioned his skill, knowledge or right to serve. He credited it to the trailblazers who came before him.

“It was your service, it was the mistreatment that many of you unfortunately endured, it was the lack of opportunity that many of you were forced to endure, it was the disrespect that many of you were forced to endure — that made my service almost unremarkable,” White said to a full house. “It was on your backs, on your shoulders that I stood and that the soldiers of today stand.”

Organizers pick a different generation to honor each year, and this year the soldiers of the 1970s were paid homage.

The program was interrupted to honor those of The Greatest Generation, and 88-year-old James Johnigan, of Tyler, was presented with a medal. The medal was a thank you for living through a time of social change and unrest in the Marine Corps.

Johnigan served in the Marines from 1943 to 1948. He said he went in as a private and earned three stripes in his time in the service, retiring as a sergeant. He served in segregated military transporting supplies.

“Looking back, I guess I was a trailblazer, but at the time, I really didn’t think about it,” Johnigan said.

United States Marine Corps retired Maj. Gen.l James L. Williams spoke on the need for communities to support veterans once they return home.

“We’ve had a lot of veterans in the Vietnam War and in the ’70s that didn’t get welcomed home. …” he said. “The first thing I want to say to all of you is thank you, thank you, thank you and welcome home.”

Williams said there are problems facing veterans on the home front including a large number of them living on the streets and having difficulty receiving VA benefits.

“We have a lot of resources out there and sometimes we are not pushing hard enough to make it happen,” he said.

He advocated the community to be a place of support for those who serve to change the homeless problem.

“If the community said, ‘I’m going to pull you out of that pit, and I’m going to pick you up and (put) you on your feet,’ they will be successful, but the community has to seek out those vets. You have to change the dynamic,” he said.

The support extends to the city, state and national level.

“The challenge I will make to you is you must talk to your politicians,” Williams said. “They will listen, but you have to know what you want from them. This republic is for the people and by the people. If the people aren’t there, if all the politicians are making decisions without this input, then what good is this country? What good is this state? What good is this town?”