Who we celebrate on Veterans Day

On Nov. 11, our country will honor its veterans, as it does every year, with parades, ceremonies, speeches and patriotic music. Schools will welcome us into their classrooms and ask us to tell our stories, and everywhere we go young and old alike will clasp our hands and say, "Thank you for serving." We are blessed to live in a grateful nation.

We also live in an incredibly diverse nation. Our veteran population - just over 23 million and counting - reflects that. As Americans seek out those in their communities who wore the uniform to recognize them this Veterans Day, they'll find that women and minorities are serving in the military in greater numbers than ever before.

According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, about 2,600,000 living U.S. veterans - 11 percent - are black. Another 1,824,000 - 8 percent - are women. Smaller percentages include Hispanics (5.8 percent), Asian/Pacific Islanders (1.5 percent), American Indian/Alaska natives (0.8 percent), and "other" (1.3 percent). These numbers are always changing, but together, they're about 29 percent of America's veterans, or about 6,700,000. We're no longer Sgt. Rock's army.

Addressing The American Legion's 92nd National Convention in Milwaukee, I expressed my desire to see more of this diversity in our own ranks - not because our organization is a promoter of diversity for diversity's sake, but because from its inception, the Legion has always maintained that a veteran is a veteran. From Frank Buckles, the last living World War I veteran, to Dawn Halfaker, who lost an arm in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom and now serves on The American Legion Small Business Task Force, we all share a common bond, regardless of our gender or race.

This is not a new development. Women were admitted into the Legion before they had the right to vote in the United States. One of our founders, Hamilton Fish, is probably best known as the commander of the first all-black U.S. combat unit shipped overseas in World War I - the Harlem Hellfighters, who in 191 days of duty at the front didn't have any men captured or ground lost. Two of the country's most prominent civil-rights voices, Earl Dickerson and Corneal Davis, were among the first black veterans to join the newly formed American Legion and organize posts for black soldiers.

If you honorably served our country during wartime, you have a home in the Legion, period. We know, and cherish, a camaraderie rarely found elsewhere in society - a camaraderie that is colorblind and, increasingly, genderblind. The oath we swore was the same. The commitment we made. The discipline we endured. The joy and pride we felt serving something greater than ourselves.

When speaking to Legionnaires, I often point out that women and minorities together make up a third of our total forces. We're seeing many of these veterans put on Legion caps, which is as it should be. But we must reach out and welcome all of them into our family, which won't be whole until every eligible veteran joins us in our mission to keep on serving America. We are them, and they are us.


  1. I'm glad that you as a Wiccan aren't discriminated at where you are.
    Read the Preamble which starts out: "For God and Country..." I am Buddhist(do not believe in a god). 11 to 16 percent of that 1/3 do not believe in a god. When I enlisted I gave an oath to defend the Constitution. No god anywhere in that.
    My post is very much if you aren't christian you are not welcome.

  2. After reading your statistic that 1,824,000 living veterans are women, I opened a letter from the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc. They report that almost 243,000 women are now registered at the Women's Memorial registry. They have a goal of crossing the 250,000 mark by next year. My question, would you be amenable to providing info and a link for women veterans to learn about The Women's Memorial and understand that they have earned the honor of recognition via registration, now, in their lifetime for their military service? All women who have honorably served, past and present, are eligible to be registered at the Women's Memorial in Washington DC.
    Thank you for your consideration,
    a woman veteran

  3. I am openly a practicing Wiccan, and a proud member of the Legion. I have never made a secret of my religious beliefs. I had more problems being accepted because I was a woman, than I did as a Wiccan. Just as I respect other peoples religious beliefs, I receive the same respect in mine. My fellow Legionnaires know that I work hard on behalf of the Legion, and firmly believe in God and Country. Diversity is there, but because it is working, it is not obvious, and that is the way it should be. We focus on the work we do, not the way we believe.

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