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African Americans Garner Place in Pentagon

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 1997 – African-American heroes, veterans and active duty service members have garnered a permanent place of honor in the Pentagon.

Officials dedicated the "African Americans in Defense of Our Nation" corridor and unveiled a Medal of Honor exhibit, the first of several displays, during DoD's Black History Month observance Feb. 19. The corridor is on the E ring of the third floor between corridors two and three. The ceremony featured Defense Secretary William S. Cohen; the Navy's first four star African-American, Adm. J. Paul Reason; and two of the three living African-American Medal of Honor recipients.

Plans call for accenting African-American participation in all the nation's conflicts, said Edwin Dorn, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

"We'll highlight groups such as the Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Point Marines, the first African-American naval officers -- the Golden 13, flag and general officers, and women," he noted. "Some might ask why such a corridor is necessary -- but I would remind them of the words of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the originator of Negro History Week in 1926, when he said:

"'We should not learn less of George Washington -- first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen -- but we should learn something also of the 3,000 Negro soldiers of the American Revolution who helped to make this Father of our Country possible ... we should not cease to pay tribute to Abraham Lincoln as the savior of the country; but we should ascribe praise also to the 178,975 Negroes who had to be mustered into the service of the Union before it could be preserved, and who by their heroism demonstrated that they were entitled to freedom and citizenship.'"

Dorn said when the nation was founded, African Americans were excluded by law from participating in the militia or the regular military.

"Today, African Americans comprise 19 percent of those on active duty and 16 percent of the Reserves and National Guard," Dorn said. "These figures are well above the representation of African Americans in our national population."

When all exhibits are completed, visitors will learn about segregated units, attempts to exclude African Americans from combat and the early attempts to achieve equality of treatment and opportunity, Dorn said.

"You will also learn of personal sacrifice and loss -- as well as the triumph of the human spirit," he said.

Reason said corridor dedications are a particular Pentagon ritual and outsiders may not fully appreciate their significance.

"A hallway being dedicated to a person, a small group of people, or to an entire unit is a highly significant event. It's the Department of Defense's way of giving recognition to those who stand far and above their peers," Reason said. "When it comes to African-American heroes, it's significant because here in 1997, this is happening for the first time. "

Reason said he's particularly pleased about the corridor because it means "our fellow fighting men and women have chosen to elevate us to the peerage."

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Click photo for screen-resolution image"It's nonretractable -- you can't take this corridor back," Navy Adm. J. Paul Reason said after dedication of the African Americans in Defense of Our Nation corridor in the Pentagon. Reason, keynote speaker at DoD's Black History Month observance, is commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet. Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMedal of Honor holders Clarence Sasser (left) and Vernon Baker cut the ribbon dedicating the Pentagon's African Americans in Defense of Our Nation corridor during ceremonies Feb. 19. The corridor's first display honors African-American Medal of Honor heroes. Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA  
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