Learn their stories. That was the message from Col. U. L. Armstrong, the commander of the 773rd Civil Support Team, during the U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz African-American History Month celebration Feb. 9 at the Kaiserslautern Army Community Center on Daenner Kaserne.
During his speech, Armstrong talked about historical African-American figures in the military, including: Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the Revolutionary War; 600 African-American Soldiers who were instrumental in defeating the British at New Orleans in the War of 1812; The Harlem Hellfighters, an African-American infantry unit in WWI who spent more time in combat than any other American unit; The Tuskeegee Airmen, the 452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, and African-American nurses in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II; two African-American Medal of Honor recipients in Korea and 20 more during the Vietnam War.
“I urge you to find out more,” Armstrong said. “Discover what’s out there.”
The Army has come a long way from the segregated units of World War II and before, he said.
“We can all be proud of our Army and its commitment to racial equality,” he added.
The event, which also included lunch, was a garrison event hosted by the Army Reserve’s 7th Mission Support Command. This year’s theme was “African-Americans in time of war.”
“Throughout Ameri-ca’s history, from the Battle of Lexington to the battle of Fallujah to today, black service members have a rich tradition of honorably answering the call to duty, serving with great valor and distinction in America’s armed forces,” Brig Gen. Fred Maiocco, 7th MSC commanding general and 21st Theater Sustainment Command deputy commanding general, said in his opening remarks.
During the ceremony, Renaldo Walker, an Air Force veteran and human resources generalist and adjunct professor at University of Maryland University College Europe, portrayed Frederick Douglass, a prominent African-American abolitionist, author and orator. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist.
“He never relented,” Walker said of Douglass. “Through all he went through with being beaten and whipped and watching other people of color being mistreated, he never gave up and he easily could have.”
Other performers included Sgt. 1st Class Tonya Price, a member of the 21st TSC, who sang the national anthems of Germany and the United States; Kianta Reeves, a local youth who performed two songs on the piano; and Otis Toussaint, who sang “A Change is Gonna Come.”
The audience also played “Who am I?” identifying prominent African-American military members, including: Army Maj. Martin Delaney, who convinced President Abraham Lincoln to create an all-black Army Corps led by black Army officers and became the first black field grade officer in the U.S. Army; female Buffalo Soldier Cathay Williams, who was the first black woman to enlist in the Army; and Coast Guard Capt. Bobby Charles Wilks, the first black aviator in the Coast Guard, who also was the first black Coast Guardsman to achieve the rank of captain and command a Coast Guard air station.
There was another game in which those in attendance identified famous African-American entertainers who are also military veterans, including MC Hammer, Shaggy, Jimi Hendrix and Sinbad.
“Every time I attend one of these events, I expect it to be just like it was last year, and it never is,” Walker said. “It’s always new and exciting and definitely worth the while. I look forward to the next one.”