By Duty Bound: Survival and Redemption in a Time of War
Raised in the segregated South, Ezell Ware was altogether familiar with racism and hatred. Yet he still determined to demonstrate his love for country by dedicating his life to military service. Having grown up without running water, electricity, or sufficient food, he wasn’t daunted by military life. He became the top recruit in his Marine training class.
He eventually earned a chance to join the Army’s helicopter pilot program, realizing his dream of flying. It was a role that would change his life, and the life of an unlikely partner in valor at the height of the Vietnam War.
When Ware arrived at his unit, he was assigned to serve as copilot under the command of a racist white Captain. Immediately the Captain informed Ware of his membership in the Ku Klux Klan and warned that at the first opportunity, he would shoot Ware himself and leave him for dead.
Downed by enemy fire while on a mission over thick jungles, Ware and his badly injured captain endured a three-week descent into hell, with one canteen and little defense against countless deadly forces. During the crash landing the Captain's legs were badly injured leaving him unable to walk. There was no way he would make it home without help.
It was at that moment that Ware made a decision that exemplifies the true caliber of his patriotism and his unconditional love for his fellow servicemen. He dressed and splinted the Captain's wounds and literally picked him up and and carried him an untold number of miles over the course of the next three weeks. The Captain continued to deride him and call him unthinkable names throughout the course of their journey.
When they finally made their way back to American forces, the Captain was so severely hurt, and his wounds so badly infected that he was immediately evacuated out of the country to receive proper medical care. The two men never saw each other again.
Some twenty-five years later, now Brigadier General Ware had gotten involved in public speaking, sharing stories of hope and inspiration to anyone who would listen. In the middle of one of these speeches, a broken old man arose from a back row seat. With a cane in hand, he limped down the center aisle interrupting the General's speech.
With tears in his eyes and nearly uncontrollable sobbing, this man wrapped his arms around the now silent General and began begging him for forgiveness for how he had treated him all those years before. It was the first time they had seen each other since their experience in that God-forsaken jungle. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional experience for everyone in the room.
When we think about the history of civil rights, we often think about those who marched in parades and gave speeches. We seldom think of those silent individuals who exemplified such profound strength of character in the face of such intrepid opposition and hatred. I like to think that men like Ezell Ware have helped to change the landscape of this country in profound ways.
I'm incredibly grateful for and proud of the service of men like Ware. Because of his actions, I can live in a society where I can serve alongside amazing men and women and actually see them for the wonderful people that they are without regard to race or ethnicity.
We will all face obstacles and opposition in our lives. It is during those trying moments in our life that we are able to allow the strength of character to shine through. Remember that it is character that Martin Luther King Jr. believed should be our only basis for judgment.
I encourage you, my friends, to be strong. #strength #character #racism #blackhistorymonth
Photo Credit: This is a photo I took of one of my fellow service members. I would gladly march to hell and back with him.