By Norris Burkes, Nov 8 2020
With Veterans Day approaching, I want to celebrate you, fellow Taxpayer! You are financing the wonderful GI Bill for our veterans.
This 1944 legislation immeasurably impacted my life beginning even before I was born.
My father joined the Army Air Corp in the closing months of WWII. Like everyone who served more than 90 days on active duty, he was eligible to receive financial help for health, home and education thanks to the GI Bill.
Those benefits made my childhood far better than his.
For instance, because the GI Bill gave my father a college education, I grew up with a father who was a much more understanding man than was his father.
As I began elementary school, my father used his VA-guaranteed home loan to buy our first home. Because we had a home in the suburbs, I grew up feeling safe.
None of these veteran benefits made our family rich, but the GI Bill improved our social standing, or what sociologists call “social capital.”
It’s too bad this bill was co-sponsored by one of the most racist men to ever hold a postwar congressional office. The bill’s sponsor, John Elliott Rankin of Mississippi, served 16 terms in the US House of Representatives where he once opposed an anti-lynching bill because he believed it would encourage the raping of white women.
Rankin’s initial insistence that the GI Bill be administrated by local officials nearly guaranteed discrimination against Black veterans as the soldier must qualify for assistance in a local office.
Imagine that moment in Rankin’s postwar Mississippi when a Black man entered the office of a White autocrat to make a claim.
Local veteran-assistance officers directed Blacks to attend Black-only colleges. Sadly, those schools were terribly underfunded and unprepared for the influx of new students. Most Black vets were then diverted into trade schools where they were destined to lower-paying vocations.
Sadly, many Black vets didn’t get past the college application that demanded a high school diploma. My father was a high-school dropout too, but his all-white college allowed him to concurrently earn a high school diploma and college degree.
While my veteran father was rising in status, Black fellow veterans saw their social capitol being bankrupted. They were routinely denied VA housing loans in the safter suburbs while also being deprived of job training and employment assistance.
Worse yet, picture the wounded African American coming from the war and being admitted into the VA hospitals segregated into white and nonwhite. The lives of Black men in these infamously segregated wards mattered not so much.
Just picture how the war experience of the African American man has discouraged his descendants. Visualize the generational suffering caused by the bigotry that either denied or threatened their fathers’ benefits.
Today, no community’s future is so greatly impacted by the disparity of their past than those African American families whose fathers risked their lives to defend our freedoms.
Since the African American vets of WW2 couldn’t buy a home, few of their children did. Because those vets didn’t access education, many of their children followed in the same low-paying jobs. As healthcare was so unequally granted, many grew up fatherless.
The effects of racism are both systemic and generational. But – so are the effects of white privilege.
That privilege means that I not only profit from what was given my father, but as a retired officer, I piggybacked on my father’s military benefits. Today, the GI Bill allows me first-class healthcare, disability settlements, a VA-guaranteed home loan and another master’s degree.
So I’m extremely grateful to you taxpayers for your generosity that continually refreshes the GI Bill once granted to my father. But until the effects of generational prejudice begin to recede, my benefits will remain forever tainted.
I close this Veteran’s Day column by saying thank you to ALL who served representing every color, orientation and gender. Because we vets have lost friends to combat, suicide and Agent Orange, we are the ones who truly live the chorus of Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1992 song, “Some Gave All.”
All gave some, some gave all
Some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all
Read more of my columns at www.thechaplain.net or https://www.facebook.com/theChaplainNorris. Contact me at 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.