Monday, February 28, 2011

Wrapping up Black History Month: An Open Letter to Young Black America

As you'll recall, back at the beginning of the month I said that I was going to post up the story of one inspirational black American per day for the entire month. I am a man of my word, and you will find 27 stories here in my archives for this month. Today is the 28th of February, and I should have a 28th story.

Who is my 28th inspirational black American?

It's YOU.

Say again?

Yeah, you. The young black kid who's reading this article. Maybe you've been following my posts this month. Maybe you found me by accident while doing a project for school. Maybe you were surfing Google for things like "domination" and my clever blog title came up.

Regardless of how you got here, you're here. And now I have a mission for you.

Get off your ass and become someone. Don't play the Victim Card. Don't play the Race Card. Don't expect people to just give you everything out of some bullshit notion of entitlement or guilt.

Go to school. Graduate. Make plans. Follow through on them. Be somebody. Make your own destiny.


Not because some middle-aged white guy said so.


Because generations of your forebears gave their all so that you could have an opportunity to be more than whatever you see on TV or in some magazine, some thug in baggy pants waving a Glock, or somebody's Baby Daddy on Maury, some mumbling rapper with fake gold teeth riding around in a 400 dollar car with 5000 dollar rims while you live in your grandma's basement. Don't become a statistic. Don't stain the legacy of those who came before you to give you a chance.

Note that I didn't call you African American. You're an American. If you insist on being called African American I'm going to insist you refer to me as a European American, and that's just goofy. I'm white, you're black, and we're both Americans. Stop using labels of convenience when it suits you. I notice that the NAACP hasn't changed its name from the hated "colored people" term, and currently the first thing you see on their front page is a request for donations, asking for your money before they tell you how they'll help you advance. It's Black History Month and the Black Pages phone directory of black-owned businesses and the annual Black Business Expo in Charleston, SC. It's considered racist to say "Negro" these days unless you're accepting your scholarship money from the United Negro College Fund, ironically easily spent at a black college because a school that calls itself a white college would be racist.

I live in a town riddled with gangs and gun violence, most of it black-on-black. Every day I look across the street at the gaggle of unemployed guys who gather to play horseshoes, smoke blunts, and share their music with everyone in a 1,000-yard radius, guys who have no jobs yet always seem to have money for rims and stereo gear and gold chains and gold teeth and new Timberlands. Guys who just stare at me like I'm insane for waving hi and expecting an acknowledgment of a greeting after almost 7 years of being their neighbor.

Why did I choose the 27 stories that I featured? Because they all shared common threads: honor, courage, dignity, a sense of duty, a sense of sacrifice for their fellows, no matter who they were. Many of them died protecting others, saving the lives of their comrades and friends. They gave everything they had and expected nothing in return. They weren't overpaid sports stars whining about their multimillion dollar contracts or no-talent rappers with Auto-Tune wearing sunglasses 24/7, seeing how many times they can drop an F-bomb or say "Nigga" while talking about making it rain.

If you require a role model, choose wisely. Don't pick an athlete who makes 20 million a year and cries for more money every year and signs with whoever will pay the most, showing loyalty to no one but his bank account while he kills dogs or shoots himself in the leg at a club with an illegal gun or gets killed by a girlfriend while his wife and kids are at home. Don't pick some rapper who makes nonsensical noise on someone else's samples from real artists and shows off his money on MTV Cribs when he's not doing time on gun charges.

You can be anything you want to be. So this is my challenge to you, young black America. Go inspire me. Go become my 28th story. I'm not saying go get killed. I'm saying to use the examples of those who gave their full measure to achieve your maximum potential. Nothing is holding you back but you. Make your mom proud. Make your family proud. Make me proud to be an American with you.

Give freely of yourself and expect nothing back, and you'll be rewarded tenfold. Go be someone. Go make history.

The passing of an entire generation...

It's morbidly ironic that my first post of the month was to wish a happy 110th birthday to Frank Buckles, America's last surviving veteran of World War 1. Frank passed away yesterday, and so I end the month saying goodbye.

All of our veterans who served in "The War To End All Wars" are gone. There will be no more interviews, no more first-hand accounts of life in the trenches, no more memoirs, no more photographs. Sadly, an entire epoch of American history will be laid to rest with Frank Woodruff Buckles.

Rest in peace, sir.

"Spirit of the American Doughboy" Statue at Fort Smith, Arkansas

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Black History Month: Garfield Langhorn

Garfield McConnell Langhorn was born September 10, 1948 in Cumberland, Virginia

Langhorn joined the Army in Brooklyn, New York, and by January 15, 1969 was serving as a Private First Class in Troop C, 7th Squadron (Airmobile), 17th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Aviation Brigade. On that day, two men of C Troop, 1LT Sterling Edward Cox and WO1 James Birch Petteys, went down when their AH-1G Cobra gunship was shot down.

First Lieutenant Sterling Cox and Warrant Officer James Petteys

The gunship had crashed on a heavily forested slope. Other men of C Troop were promptly inserted to rescue Cox and Petteys. After working their way through the jungle to the crash site, they found both crewmen dead. They removed the bodies in order to carry them back to the landing zone.

While enroute to the LZ, the rescue forces came under heavy fire and in short order were surrounded. In the ensuing battle, PFC Garland Langhorn distinguished himself by covering an enemy hand grenade that had been thrown near several wounded soldiers with his own body in order to save his comrades from death or injury. He was killed in the explosion, but succeeded in protecting the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Garland Langhorn was the only one of the rescue party who died. His body, together with those of Lieutenant Cox and Warrant Officer Petteys, was brought out by the other men of C Troop.

Garfield Langhorn, aged 20 years at his death, was buried in Riverhead Cemetery, Riverhead, New York.

Mary Langhorn, mother of Garfield Langhorn, at a ceremony dedicating the Riverhead Post Office in honor of her son. The portrait of him is by artist Gerald Slater of New York City and hangs in the Riverhead Post Office.

Private Langhorn's Medal of Honor Citation reads as follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. PFC. Langhorn distinguished himself while serving as a radio operator with Troop C, near Plei Djereng in Pleiku province. PFC Langhorn's platoon was inserted into a landing zone to rescue 2 pilots of a Cobra helicopter shot down by enemy fire on a heavily timbered slope. He provided radio coordination with the command-and-control aircraft overhead while the troops hacked their way through dense undergrowth to the wreckage, where both aviators were found dead. As the men were taking the bodies to a pickup site, they suddenly came under intense fire from North Vietnamese soldiers in camouflaged bunkers to the front and right flank, and within minutes they were surrounded. PFC Langhorn immediately radioed for help from the orbiting gunships, which began to place minigun and rocket fire on the aggressors. He then lay between the platoon leader and another man, operating the radio and providing covering fire for the wounded who had been moved to the center of the small perimeter. Darkness soon fell, making it impossible for the gunships to give accurate support, and the aggressors began to probe the perimeter. An enemy hand grenade landed in front of PFC Langhorn and a few feet from personnel who had become casualties. Choosing to protect these wounded, he unhesitatingly threw himself on the grenade, scooped it beneath his body and absorbed the blast. By sacrificing himself, he saved the lives of his comrades. PFC Langhorn's extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Black History Month: Ralph H. Johnson

Ralph Henry Johnson was born on January 11, 1949, in Charleston, South Carolina. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at Oakland, California on March 23, 1967, and was discharged to enlist in the regular Marine Corps on July 2, 1967.

Upon completion of recruit training with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, MCRD San Diego, California, in September 1967, he was transferred to the Camp Pendleton, California. He underwent individual combat training with Company Y, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, and basic infantry training with the Basic Infantry Training Company, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment, completing the latter in November 1967. He was promoted to Private First Class on November 1, 1967.

In January 1968, he arrived in the Republic of Vietnam, and served as a reconnaissance scout with Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

On March 5, 1968, while on Operation Rock, deep in enemy-held territory near the Quan Duc Valley, his 15-man reconnaissance patrol was attacked by a platoon-sized enemy force. When a hand grenade landed in the fighting hole he shared with fellow Marines, he yelled a warning and immediately hurled his body over the explosive charge. Absorbing the full impact of the blast, was killed instantly. His heroic actions on that day were recognized with a posthumous award of the United States' highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor.

Ralph H. Johnson is buried in the Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina, not far from his native Charleston.

Ralph Johnson's Medal of Honor Citation reads as follows:
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a reconnaissance scout with Company A, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division in action against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces in the Republic of Vietnam. In the early morning hours of March 5, 1968, during OPERATION ROCK,  Private First Class Johnson was a member of a fifteen-man reconnaissance patrol manning an observation post on Hill 146 overlooking the Quan Duc Valley deep in enemy controlled territory. They were attacked by a platoon-size hostile force employing automatic weapons, satchel charges and hand grenades. Suddenly a hand grenade landed in the three- man fighting hole occupied by Private First Class Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the inherent danger to his comrades, he shouted a warning and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the explosive device. When the grenade exploded, Private First Class Johnson absorbed the tremendous impact of the blast and was killed instantly. His prompt and heroic act saved the life of one Marine at the cost of his own and undoubtedly prevented the enemy from penetrating his sector of the patrol's perimeter. Private First Class Johnson's courage-inspiring valor and selfless devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country

Lietnenant Clebe McClary and Major General James E. Livingston stand next to PFC Ralph H. Johnson's display in the Medal of Honor Museum aboard the USS Yorktown at the Naval and Maritime Museum at Patriots Point. McClary was Johnson's platoon leader, and was the Marine whose life Johnson saved. Livingston is a fellow Medal of Honor recipient and is also featured in the Medal of Honor Museum.

The USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding

The VA Medical Center in his home town of Charleston, SC is named for Johnson