A Very Special Veteran
On this Veterans’s Day 2021, I am recalling a very special man who performed a very special military duty in Europe, 1944, before returning to his home in Jackson, Mississippi:
Here’s a scene from 1960’s Mississippi, from chapter 5 of my 2014 novel, King of Soul:
If ghosts could speak, they would probably confirm what Uncle Cannon was saying. As he sat on the lowered gate of his black Ford pickup truck, with one leg on the ground and the other swinging beneath the tailgate, the old Mississippian spoke some of his thoughts about the state of affairs in the state of Mississippi. His friend, Geehaw Kent stood listening.
“The murder of Medgar Evers was a tragedy: he was a young man,” Cannon said. “He had slogged his way across Europe, along with thousands of other Allied soldiers, to arrive triumphantly in Germany and then knock the hell out of the Nazi war machine. So he contributed to that great collective effort through which we won the big war. But then he came back to Mississippi and was told — what the hell — to go to the back of the bus.”
“So, at the end of his homeward journey, Medgar entered, almost involuntarily, into another great war, but it was a war of a different kind. It was an old war that had been started by old men. That is to say: men who we think of as old because they had lived and died in the prior era, and yet some of them were still living — men who, in days past, had retained, even cultivated, the prejudices and the limitations of their ancestors. . .” Uncle Cannon blinked both his eyes at the same time — it was a tic he had.
A flock of crows were making a ruckus in the nearby hickory, but he paid them no mind. An old meat bone that had, somewhere along the line, found its way into the bed of his pickup — he picked it up and tossed it away. His dappled hound dog promptly sprang to retrieve it. “Bandit!” he called to his dog, for no particular reason except to spur him on. Bandit was obsessive about the bone, as if his life depended on it. At the dog’s sudden bolt, a few of the crows lit out from their tree.
Uncle Cannon continued, “. . . men who had inflicted — mostly from ignorance, but not entirely — those cultural cruelties of the institutions they were born into, They were men and women whose cultural prejudices propelled them into condoning atrocities that they themselves had not even bothered to analyze, or reconsider in any way. Restrooms and water fountains for coloreds, separate schools, restaurants — all that societal baggage they just took for granted, as if that’s the way it had always been in this world. Their great-great grandfathers had brought the Negras to America in slave ships. It was a helluva evil thing to do, but that’s what was happening at that time; there were atrocities just as bad, among the Africans themselves, going on over in Africa, that enabled the slavetraders to do what they did. That’s what started all this trouble we got now. It goes way back; and so, consequently it will take a long time to rectify. You don’t undo centuries of sin in a year or two, or a federal judge’s court order or two. ”
P.S. I was a child growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1950’s, when Medgar Evers returned to his home after serving the citizens of our nation.
In 1963, he was shot dead in his own front yard by a white supremacist who was hiding behind a bush across the street.
On this Veterans Day, let us remember that millions of our men and women have fought, and many have died for this nation, and for our principle of liberty, that all men and women can be, quoting Dr. MLKing, “free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty we are free at last!”