This afternoon I attended a presentation about the Tuskegee Airmen and a reception honoring veterans at NDSU. The event was sponsored by NDSU’s Division of Equity, Diversity and Global Outreach, NDSU’s Military and Veterans Services Office, NDSU American Legion Post 400 and a number of other sponsors. As the mother of a disabled veteran who is also a student at NDSU, I was pleased to see the effort put forth on the campus to acknowledge the contributions and service of veterans.
The event started with a presentation by Ron Spriggs on the Tuskegee Airman and was followed up by a number of presentations at the reception by the Vice President of the Division of Equity, Diversity and Global Outreach, Evie Myers, and two well-spoken student leaders – Calie Craddock, Commander of campus-based Post 400 of the American Legion, and Erik Deiderich, Vice President of NDSU’s Student Body. There were a number of veterans in attendance. They spanned the armed forces and ranged in age from the 20s to the upper 60s. A number of the younger veterans in attendance were emergency management students. I had my entire class attend the presentation and reception, not only to recognize and honor the service of their classmates, but also to recognize and honor the service of all veterans who were willing to defend the ideals of this country with their lives.
I want to tell you more about Ron Spriggs’ presentation today in my blog, but first I want to share a story that Evie shared in her comments about her 90 year old father. Evie’s father, a veteran, participated in the Walmart Wall of Honor unveiling on November 9th at the Fargo Walmart. Evie said her father had been looking forward to the event for days and was very proud to be able to attend and participate in it.
She contrasted his happiness at the recognition event with her father’s reaction to a news story this weekend about the struggles of local homeless veterans. Evie shared with those in attendance at the reception that tears ran down her father’s cheeks as he watched this report. He could not understand how it could be that veterans could be left to struggle in this way. Evie’s father’s reaction compelled her to commit to find ways that she could help improve this situation. She took a step in that direction today when she shared this story and urged those in attendance to make their own efforts to help homeless veterans by giving what they can to help homeless veterans and to support the Gladys Ray Shelter which is temporarily housing a number of the veterans.
Evie’s charge to the attendees reminded me that the world is a better place when we all do what we can from where we are at…which brings me to Ron Spriggs. Ron Spriggs, who urges folks to call him Uncle Ron, travels around the country speaking to groups of all ages about the Tuskegee Airmen (see his webpage for contact information). As Uncle Ron says, “Tuskegee Airmen are not just black history, Tuskegee Airmen are American history.” Indeed, Uncle Ron – they are a part of American history, a history that is filled with triumph over racism and ignorance…a history marked by great service and sacrifice.
Uncle Ron is quite the character. He is not the somber messenger one might expect on such a topic. He is instead more like a jovial, fun-loving grandpa. He has mastered just enough of the current lingo to make his presentations feel fresh and relevant to young people. His presentation left me with the sense that I was sitting in his living room listening to him share stories of the past. It was as if the oral history of the Tuskegee Airmen was being passed on to me and the other folks in the room so that they could carry the message forward to their children and their children’s children.
Uncle Ron’s presentation necessarily reminded listeners of the days of segregation and racism. He spoke of these tough times in plain speak with no drama or indignation, instead he portrayed it as a sad reality of the times. And yet, there is something about Uncle Ron’s style that allows room for the listeners to form their own righteous indignation at the treatment the Tuskegee Airmen faced.
Uncle Ron gave an interesting presentation about a group of veterans whose story deserves retelling. The Tuskegee Airmen (who were not all men and were not all black), etched their names in history in spite of the obstacles they faced. The Congressional Gold Medal awarded them in 2007 that acknowledged their contribution to the war effort was long in the coming. But we know that we do not honor the Tukegee Airmen’s efforts if we allow their story to fade into the history books. This is a story that bears repeating and it carries a message worth remembering – service, sacrifice, courage, and commitment are color blind. Gather up your family in the living room and pass down the tale just as Uncle Ron did today…keep the history and lessons that others have lived alive…remember the service of all veterans.
Day one thousand two hundred and twenty-eight of the new forty – obla di obla da