HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Three Generations, Three Wars: African American Veterans

Article

This article explores experiences of war and suffering among African American veterans who served in World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. Men’s experiences as soldiers reflected both racism and the social change that occurred in the Unites States while they served.

Abstract

Purpose: This article emerged from pilot research exploring experiences of war and suffering among African American veterans who served in World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. Men’s experiences as soldiers reflected both racism and the social change that occurred in the Unites States while they served. Design and Methods: We used techniques of narrative elicitation, conducting qualitative, ethnographic interviews with each of five veterans in his home. Interviews focused on unique and shared experiences as an African American man and a soldier. Results: Three important themes emerged: (a) Expectations related to War— Although men viewed service to country as an expected part of life, they also expected equal treatment in war, which did not occur; (b) Suffering as an African American —Informants interpreted experiences of suffering in war as related to the lower status of African American servicemen; and (c) Perception of present identity —Each man was honed by the sum of his experiences, including those of combat, racism, and postwar opportunities and obstacles. Implications: From 40 to 70 years after the wars were fought, there are few scholarly narrative studies on African American veterans, despite the fact that Korean War Veterans are entering old–old age and few World War II Veterans are alive. The value of pilot research that offers narratives of unheard voices is significant; larger studies can interview more African American veterans to advance knowledge that might soon be lost.

Full Reference

Black, H.K., 2016. Three Generations, Three Wars: African American Veterans. The Gerontologist, 56:1, 33–41.