Both of the men were veterans of the U.S. Army, having fought for five years in World War II. They fought to protect rights that they themselves could not enjoy.
I wonder if, at the funerals for Roger Malcolm and George Doeset, a military officer, when presenting the U.S. flag to their families, said, "On behalf of a grateful nation."
These brutal murders were the catalyst for President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9808, which established the President's Committee on Civil Rights. The commission issued a report in 1947 entitled "To Secure These Rights." In the report summary, the commission stated:
"The American people have traditionally shown high national regard for civil rights, even though the record in many a community has been far from good. We should not fail to make use of this in combating civil rights violations. The local community must be encouraged to set its own house in order. ... We cannot afford to delay action until the most backward community has learned to prize civil liberty and has taken adequate steps to safeguard the rights of every one of its citizens."
Certainly, Truman accomplished the goal of desegregating the U.S. military. Yet, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the establishment of his commission, discrimination is still rampant in the armed forces. Even today, there are countless members of our military fighting to protect the rights of a free society, our free society, who are not free to avail themselves of the rights they protect -- the rights of "a grateful nation."
As I sit at home and watch the wars in Iraq & Afganistan unfold, I wonder what it must be like to have a partner in the armed forces. I simply can't fathom waking up in the morning and hearing the count -- or even worse, the names, and finding out that your partner is among those names.
In a similar fashion, I can't imagine what it's like for someone whose partner comes home safe from a tour of duty -- arriving at the base and seeing her wife behind the rope line, unable to run and embrace her because doing so would invoke questions and an investigation. There among her brother and sister soldiers, she stands alone, with no one to embrace after serving "the grateful nation."
Our "grateful nation" asks the men and women in the military to pick up a weapon and stand a post in the name of a free and civil society. It is an affront to the framers of the Constitution that those who make what is often the ultimate sacrifice to protect our rights are then denied them when they return home.
Just as Roger and George served their country so that they could return home, marry, make a life, enjoy the liberty they protected and pursue happiness, our men and women who provide us our freedoms should and must be allowed to proudly return home, embrace those they love, enjoy their liberty and pursue their happiness.
It is the responsibility of each of us to remind our congressional leaders to be sure that "a grateful nation" is truly grateful, lest we replace them with those who will ensure that those words are not hollow, and that the lives sacrificed were not in vain.