Written in response to the dedication of the
National World War II Memorial, 29 May 2004
“The V for victory sign is being
displayed prominently in all so-called
democratic countries which are fighting
for victory over aggression, slavery,
and tyranny. If the V sign means
that to those now engaged in this great
conflict, then let we colored Americans
adopt the double VV for a double
victory. The first V for victory over
enemies from without, the second V for
victory over our enemies from within.”
—James G. Thompson, letter to the Pittsburgh Courier,
31 January 1942 (quoted by Ronald Takaki in Double Victory:
A Multicultural History of America in World War II)
Around and through these fifty-six pillars
of white stone hung with wreaths of bronze,
drift and dive four hundred thousand ghosts—
keening, unheard, indignant desert birds.
The war to uphold FDR’s Four Freedoms,
fought by Americans who never in their lives
tasted freedom of speech, freedom of worship,
freedom from want, freedom from fear. Never.
Dorie Miller, black Navy messman
at Pearl Harbor, firing an ack-ack gun,
a weapon he was forbidden to touch, downed
four Japanese bombers . . . strange fruit.
Ernest Childers, Muscogee infantryman
With the “Thunderbird,” single-handedly
cleared two German machine-gun nests . . .
first Indian to win the Medal of Honor.
Guy Louis Gabaldon, Chicano
Marine from East LA, fluent speaker
of Japanese, captured eight hundred
prisoners on his own without a shot.
Susan Ahn, daughter of Ahn Chang Ho,
renowned Korean freedom fighter . . . first
Asian American in the US Navy, first
woman gunnery officer in 1944.
My Papa, my Lolo—Martin and Felix Gotera—
trudge through a fog of kayumanggi dust
lit by sword blade’s sinister flash. Bataan!
Bloody but unbowed. Survive. Mabuhay.
My friend Bino curses these pillars, calls
them “horns.” His father, death-march survivor, denied
burial at Arlington. “No Filipinos Allowed.”
The Rescission Act. Give then take away.
Friends, although eight eagles lift here two
laurel wreaths for victory, the “Double VV”
has yet to be fully won. The demon vanquished
abroad still lives, here, at home. Flourishing.
We still recall with anguish Truman’s bombs,
two hundred thousand victims, mostly women
and children, black rain, skin burning. Legacy
of dishonor. Not a military necessity.
Today, let us remember these honored dead.
Let us remember the civilians—many women—
who riveted planes, who lived behind barbed wire.
Live up to the vision of all these heroes . . . all.
Let us win the second victory, at last.
Make the Four Freedoms real for each and all.
Then let these four hundred thousand ghosts, angels,
Rest their fiery wings in God’s breast, and sleep.