Every day starts a new story and this one gives a modern-day emphasis on the theme of this season, Peace on Earth and Goodwill. You can read the full story of 1SG James Womack in his book, "Black Dad White Dad."
James Womack has every reason to be the most bitter man alive. He was born into a sharecropper family just outside of Yazoo City, Miss. His parents were the last generation of people who picked cotton by hand. The practice was to keep the menfolk amply supplied with liquor. “A drunk (Negro) is a happy (Negro).”
This also gave the overseer ample private time with their wives. When James was born with lighter skin and blue eyes, his father rejected him as not being his. This wasn’t true, but he never accepted James as his son. The father was abusive when he drank, and beat James’ mother often. Add to that a poor segregated education that consisted of one teacher for 12 grades with Fido the Dog and Bessie the Cow as their only textbook.
Young James was also poisoned with the defeatist liberation theology that told him he would never be allowed to succeed. Add it up and you have the foundation for lifelong failure.
When the cotton picking machines replaced hand picking, the family moved to Yazoo City. James’ saintly mother sacrificed everything she could to send James to a Catholic school. There the teachers found that James was illiterate, but extremely bright. They worked with James to bring him up to speed.
The day after Emmett Till was murdered, James’ mother, fearful for her son’s life, sent him packing to New Orleans, where he lived with his uncle. James finished high school there and graduated three points shy of being named valedictorian.
James decided to go with the Army, which promised him a career in chemistry. Instead, the culture of those days called for black men to be limited to cook, driver, infantry, or artillery. He never made it to the promised chemistry school. James would eventually serve in Germany and Vietnam.
While in Germany he received the news that his beloved mother had died. Seeking quiet solace, the heartbroken soldier went to a German coffee shop. There he met the love of his life, a German girl who would soon lose her dad. They bonded through their mutual grief and eventually married.
This black/white marriage led to all kinds of prejudice, bureaucratic runarounds, the loss of previously strong friendships, and eventually unfounded accusations and a confrontation and fall that led to progressive impairment to his priceless wife. Add to that the death of two daughters and a related financial ruin and you have a man who has the right to be the most bitter man alive.
Instead, James chose forgiveness, a manly faith, and moving forward. Never have I been in a home where I felt the presence of peace so strongly. Oh that we would embrace the Peace on Earth and Goodwill attitude of the James Womack story.
Don McAllister directs the National Veteran’s Historical Archive. His column appears the second Sunday of each month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.nvharchive.org.