Ceremonies honor often-forgotten black soldiers Annual event addresses isolation, confusion many veterans encountered

February 25, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Standing at the base of a Calvert Street statue dedicated to "Negro" military heroes, Angley Peterson reflected yesterday on the plight of fellow black soldiers who he said often were isolated and confused during the Vietnam War.

"But that was nothing compared to how our ancestors had it," said Mr. Peterson, dressed in a faded green military coat, tan beret and spit-shined Army boots. "They fought hard for a country that had enslaved them and treated them as though they were nothing. Still, they fought hard."

About 200 people -- mostly veterans dressed in military clothes adorned with buttons and badges of past wars -- attended Black Patriots Day ceremonies at the War Memorial Building and the plaza dedicated to veterans in front of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse on Calvert Street.

Organized in part by the Maryland Army National Guard, Black Patriots Day was a chance for black soldiers who served in wars and conflicts throughout U.S. history to be recognized for their sacrifices and contributions.

"African-American soldiers have made a difference in every war, but their contributions have been lost in the history books," said Baltimore Del. Clarence Davis, a Vietnam veteran and an event coordinator. "Our communities have never paid honor to them."

Black veterans from throughout the state attended the ceremonies, many wearing the uniforms they or their ancestors wore during wartime. Several participants wore the uniforms of the Buffalo soldiers of the Civil War.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Johnson, assistant division commander of the 29th Infantry Division, said although blacks have risen in the military in recent years, their successes have not been told.

"And it's a wonderful story that needs to be told," he said.

During wartime, blacks stayed in the military for longer periods and volunteered to be part of elite fighting units.

"We served in every conflict this nation has ever taken part in," Mr. Johnson said. "Black soldiers were being used as a means to an end. You thought this would be a means to something better."

Instead, he said deflation followed the soldiers' anxiety as their deeds and efforts to serve the country often went unnoticed.

The ceremonies also attracted youths who wanted to learn the history of black soldiers. Many said history books telling of their accomplishments are scarce.

Clarence Nellson, 15, a student at Dunbar High School, said he has to go to the library and request books about black soldiers.

"If you didn't look hard in the library, you'd think that every war the United States fought in was only fought by white soldiers. That's not right," he said. "Blacks served just as proudly."

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