When America celebrates veterans and remembers those who have fallen, the idolized “American Hero” image is the star of a toxic masculinity action movie. Hollywood as well as American Nativism has not grown past the racist ideology of the 1940’s, and this is shown through our country’s blatant disregard to recognize immigrants or women as a part of this image. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrators raised awareness of the justice that Army SPC. Vanessa Guillen never received. The United States military has a long history of sexual assault and discrimination cases under its belt but still the idealistic “Forrest Gump” image is preserved. In this article I want to recognize the heroes that this country minimizes to an asterisk in the legacy of the American Dream.
When the United States entered into WWII, Congress provided naturalization for immigrants serving in the Armed Forces at an expedited rate. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) worked with the military stateside to seek out noncitizens wanting citizenship, they organized swearing ceremonies, helped with petitions, and even conducted overseas naturalizations. In fact, the United States was so invested in making the Armed Forces more appealing for immigrants that in 1944, a statute was added to the Second War Powers Act to eliminate the requirement for proof of lawful entry into the U.S. Over 100,000 “noncitizens” that served during that time were awarded naturalization for their service. WWII wasn’t the first-time immigrants played a key role in armed conflicts for America and it certainly wasn’t the last. During WWI, around 500,000 immigrants served in the military and after the war, 192,000 veterans were awarded citizenship. The last four years of the Trump administration’s fearmongering of immigrants has proven that America hasn’t outgrown its racist gender discriminating roots.
The Women’s Army Corp was formed in 1942 and in July of that same year the Women’s Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and Women Reservists was formed. The WAVES program provided white women the opportunity to fill the non-combatant roles so men could serve in warfare. These women served their country despite the fact that they were not initially given benefits, rank, or wage equivalent to their male counterparts. The gender inequity was prevalent, and Black women weren’t allowed the opportunity to experience even that until much later in the war effort. Within the male army ranks was the same segregation treatment that Black soldiers experienced stateside. Jackie Robinson was an Army Lieutenant stationed at Fort Hood TX when he was arrested for refusing to move to the segregated section of a bus. This was in 1944 which was the same year that the G.I. Bill was introduced to help returning military veterans. During Robinson’s trial the Army conveniently prohibited segregation on buses that transported soldiers. The military feared unrest from the Black community because Jackie Robinson was already nationally known and if he was dishonorably discharged the Dodgers would’ve never hired him. 1944 was a very important date for breaking barriers because that was the date that Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Wills graduated as the first Black WAVES officers. Sadly, the VA honored its Black service members by denying them the mortgage subsidies they were entitled to and restricted their education and training to lower level jobs. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was the only all Black female unit to serve in Europe during the war, yet when they came back stateside, they were still robbed of the opportunities they deserved. I want to recognize Virginia Hall who was denied entrance into the American Foreign Service department because of a disability, however she didn’t let that stop her from becoming a fearless spy. She was a wireless operator who escaped Nazis despite having one leg and became one of the most decorated female civilians in WWII.
America has a deplorable tradition of glorifying our troops but denying women and people of the color the same respect as white men. While a movie about Josephine Baker and Virginia Hall defying all odds would be amazing how does that truly honor our troops? I would much rather we honor our service members with equity when they return home in the form of better mental health services and all the basic rights our veterans deserve. I would rather we stop having our soldiers’ voices go unheard in sexual assault cases which are conducted with less than subpar investigation and then called justice. From the Revolutionary war and on, people of color and women have contributed to the glory of this country but have been given a fraction of the recognition and respect. America needs to truly honor our heroes with real accountability of the present for a better and equitable future.
The Color of Law Richard Rothstein