Black veterans in Boston reflect on their time serving the country and feeling under-appreciated

Reflecting on his time serving as an Army ranger in the Vietnam War in 1966-67, Dorchester’s Ronald Bagley says he has many stories, but what he remembers the most came after the war.

Bagley spent a lot of time writing “Welcome Back to the World” letters to his buddies who also served in the war, expressing his appreciation for their service to the country.

“It was a time to really understand the blessings that you had in this country,” he said Friday before a Veterans Day celebration at the future site of General Edward O. Gourdin and African American Veterans Memorial and Park in Roxbury’s Nubian Square.

“I recommend folks to travel more and get out to see what’s out there, and they’d begin to see what they’ve grown accustomed to in this country,” Bagley said.

As the park, which is slated to open to the public next spring, aims to honor all Black veterans, Bagley and fellow veterans said the recognition has been a long time coming.

Bruce Bickerstaff served in the Vietnam War between 1967-71 as security police in the Air Force, making stops in Vietnam and Thailand. When he left the war he said he felt there was more appreciation for World War II veterans.

There are many stories that have yet to be told of Black veterans from the earliest wars to the most recent, Bickerstaff said. The new park located next to Roxbury’s branch of the Boston Police Department will go a long way in sharing untold history while recognizing Black veteran contributions to society post-war, he said.

Bickerstaff highlighted how Gourdin not only served in World War II but was also the first Black judge appointed to Roxbury District Court; the first Black person in New England appointed to Massachusetts Superior Court; and the first man in history to break 25 feet in the long jump during the 1924 Summer Olympics.

“These are the kinds of stories that we all are working toward getting out there to be accessible,” Bickerstaff said. “We are uniformed, but we are also individuals.”

Robert Workman fought in the Vietnam War as a Marine. He said it’s hard for elected officials to relate to veterans since many haven’t served in the military but mentioned his appreciation for the PACT Act which President Joe Biden signed into law in August.

The PACT act ensures veterans can receive high-quality health care screenings and services related to potential toxic exposures and expands access to VA health care services for veterans exposed during their military service, according to the White House.

“They will come out today and say ‘Thank you, veterans,’” Workman said. “Veterans Day is just not one day. All of these politicians out here today, where will they be next week, next month, next year?”

BOSTON, MA.- Boston Day and Evening Academy student Shakirah Shakir performs 'Lift Every Voice and Sing' during a Veterans Day event honoring African American soldiers in front of Roxbury's General Edward O. Gourdin African American Memorial Park on November 11, 2022 in Boston, MA. (Photo by Amanda Sabga/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Boston Day and Evening Academy student Shakirah Shakir performs “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during a Veterans Day event honoring African American soldiers in front of Roxbury’s General Edward O. Gourdin African American Memorial Park on Friday. (Amanda Sabga/Boston Herald)

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