African-American veterans honored with banquet

War and the need for armies and soldiers are one of the constants in the civilized world.

“War isn’t good for much, but it will be around all the time,” Emmett Burnam said Saturday as he opened the Winchester Black History and Heritage Committee’s banquet honoring veterans, including African-American veterans. “Think about those brave men and women you know who have gone to war.”

In the draft prior to World War II, 2.5 million African-Americans were registered to serve in a segregated military, Burnam said,.

“The groundwork for civil rights began when the contributions of African-Americans were recognized,” he said.

Sgt. Maj. Dana Bowie, a George Rogers Clark High School graduate, said African-Americans have fought in the United States’ wars since the revolution. Nine thousand African-Americans fought for terms between four and a half and eight years, he said; African-Americans made up 4 percent of the patriot forces he said while contributing 25 percent of the hours served, he said.

The first two African-American winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor earned them during the Civil War, Bowie said.

At one point during World War I, the armed forces stopped accepting African-Americans because quotas had been met, he said. Some draft boards deliberately sent more African-Americans than caucasians, he said.

Still, they continued to fight valiantly and earn honors and recognitions on the battlefield, but little of either at home. Seven African-Americans earned the Medal of Honor in World War II, but the honors were not bestowed until 1992 by President Bill Clinton, he said.

Bowie, who served for 29 years before retiring in 2012, said he hadn’t planned to join the army until a friend joined the US Air Force.

“When I was roaming the halls of GRC, The army was the furthest thing from my find but I wanted to go to college,” he said.

When his friend joined and finished his time, the military paid for his college.

“So I went in the army,” he said, in 1983.

His 29-year career led him on multiple deployments including to Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, Korea and Bosnia.

“My greatest achievement form the military is to have my children in the audience and my wife and I walk across the stage at the end of our career,” he said.