Heritage Months: don't hate, celebrate

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The United States of America has a rich and diverse ancestry that helped build this great nation, and our military draws its strength from our country's rich tradition of diversity. This is one reason why the military recognizes the achievements and contributions made possible by that legacy during heritage months each year.

However, many people continue to question why we have heritage months.

I believe Peter Ferrara, an associate law professor at George Mason University in Virginia, provides a good answer in his article, "What is an American?" written shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

He wrote, "Americans welcome people from all lands, all cultures, all religions, because they are not afraid. They are not afraid that their history, their religion, their beliefs, will be overrun, or forgotten. That is because they know they are free to hold to their religion, their beliefs, their history, as each of them choose. And just as Americans welcome all, they enjoy the best that everyone has to bring, from all over the world. The best science, the best technology, the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best athletes."

The military often celebrates heritage months through the presentation of facts about heroic veterans. We have all heard about the Tuskegee Airmen and the Navajo code talkers, and the obstacles and challenges they overcame to join and serve in the military.

But heritage months also give us a unique opportunity to dig deeper and learn a little more.

For instance, during Black History Month, you might take the opportunity to learn about William Carney, the first black recipient of the Medal of Honor, or Lt. Cdr. Wesley Brown, the first black graduate of the United States Naval Academy.

Also, do you know who Crispus Attucks was? He was a slave, who on March 5, 1770, became the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot dead by the British during the Boston Massacre.

Did you know that during the Civil War, thousands of women volunteered to be nurses, while some women even disguised themselves as men in order to join the Army? These brave women included Frances Clalin Clayton, who disguised herself as Jack Williams, or Loreta Velazquez, who used the alias "Harry Buford" and rose to the rank of captain. Women's History Month in March is a great time to learn more about these and other courageous women.

During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May, we'll learn how after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, the government placed many Japanese Americans living on the mainland in internment camps.

Yet despite this blatant discrimination, thousands of Japanese Americans stepped forward to put their lives on the line during World War II.

No country has a spotless history, the United States included, but heritage months are a time to remind us that despite our nation's past mistakes, our ancestry makes us who we are, and it helps brings us together.

They are not just observances of political correctness, but times to remind us why we are proud to serve our country, because deep down we know the men and women who came before us left us with a legacy that needs to be carried into the future.

Heritage months provide an opportunity to remind everyone that even as we maintain and celebrate our own unique traditions and heritage, we contribute to the principles that make this the land of free and home of the brave.