Note: This letter/memoir was published in The Naples Daily News.
When I graduated from high school in January, 1947, World War Two had been over for two years. I had won first prize in a speech contest involving graduating senior students and presented my speech to the audience attending our graduation.
The high school was located in the borough of Queens in N.Y.C. We graduating students were mostly the children of immigrant parents who represented various nationalities, religions, and races.
The topic of my speech was Bigotry in our Nation. I discussed the Tuskegee Airmen who as African Americans served as outstanding fighter pilots in World War Two,
in protecting our bomber air crews from German fighter pilots. I mentioned the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army in the 442nd Infantry Regiment during the same war.
Theirs’ was the most decorated army unit during the war, while their parents and siblings languished in our concentration camps as security risks. I mentioned Native Americans and
Latino Americans who also served with valor in the war.
I ended with the comment: If we die equally on the battlefield for our country, as African Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans, shouldn’t we be able to live equally at home in America as well?
I received a standing ovation.
Over seventy years later, it is apparent we have a long way to go.
Tom Vasilos, Naples