FORT KNOX, Ky. -- "During Black History Month, we as a nation pay tribute to the contributions and achievements accomplished by African Americans. Throughout history African Americans have courageously served our nation."
These were the opening remarks of Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command and event host, during the Fort Knox Black History Month observance here, Feb. 21.
Muth highlighted that African Americans make up about 19 percent of today's Army and serve as leaders at every level.
"The Army simply could not accomplish its missions without the skill and dedication of all its members," Muth said. "We find our true strength in the ability to bring together people of different races, cultures, and faiths who share common values."
This year's theme was "Honoring the Past, Securing the Future!"
The Department of Defense is commemorating the 75th Anniversary of World War II by recognizing the contributions and sacrifices made by service members as well as those who served on the home front.
"During the anniversary, we pay tribute to those Americans who undauntedly and courageously contributed to the defense of our nation," said Maj. Ashanti Milow, ceremony emcee. "African Americans played an immeasurable role in the United States' Armed Forces during World War II, serving bravely and with distinction from the initial attack on Pearl Harbor to the last days of the Pacific Campaign."
Although the United States Armed Forces were not officially desegregated until 1948, World War II laid the foundation for post-war integration of the military. Over 2.5 million African-American men registered for the draft, and African-American women volunteered in large numbers.
Hon. Gerald Neal, Kentucky state senator of District 33, served as the guest speaker for the event. During his remarks, Neal noted that Kentuckians like Charles Young, an African American who served as an officer in the Civil War and was recently posthumously promoted to brigadier general by the state of Kentucky, paved the way for the future.
Neal followed the progression of African-American service in the military through the World Wars. He highlighted that, in the 1940's, Fort Knox became a leader in integration as possibly the only installation to train all officers in desegregated classes.
In 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which called for equal opportunity for all members of the Armed Forces. Much progress has been made since then, and the Army continues the forward momentum honoring and celebrating the diversity within its ranks.
"The change in the military didn't just happen. President Truman paved the way, but it took the intelligence, hard work, ingenuity and sheer force of Kentuckians like Charles Young and the intentional leadership of Fort Knox to overcome those who remained or opposed it," Neal said. "Prejudice is no more easily eradicated in our military than in our civilian population, yet progress has been made… It can be expected that Fort Knox will be on the front lines of this progress in the years to come."