About a month ago, my son walked up to me raised his little brown fist and said,
“Give it up Daddy.”
“Give what up,” I ask.
He then proceeded to take me through a series of hand and arm movements that concluded with us touching our fists together. He learned it from Uncle Pete, who learned it Vietnam.
Uncle Pete, who is my uncle by marriage, is more like my son’s grandfather since my father is deceased, and I am so thankful for the things he teaches my son. I smiled when I learned about my little man’s D.A.P. lesson but to be honest I was a bit jealous. Uncle Pete never taught me the D.A.P. I decided to remedy that by inviting him over my house to talk. I’m also a veteran and I figured it would be fun to share stories since we come from different eras and maybe I could even talk him into giving me a quick D.A.P. lesson.
D.A.P. stands for dignity and pride my uncle told me. It was given when African-American soldiers greeted each other and departed from one another. It was one of the first things my uncle learned when he got to Vietnam, and the D.A.P. changed depending on where you were.
“Brothers in Fu Bai had a different D.A.P. than brothers stationed in Chu Lai. Understand, a lot was going on in the country when we served. King had been assassinated, the riots were happening, Black Identity and solidarity really came to the forefront.”
The D.A.P. was about a bond shared by African-American soldiers who took agency in acknowledging their own humanity at a time when that humanity was challenged and attacked at home.
I served during the late 1980s and early ’90s and I remember sitting in the day room of the barracks preparing to deploy to Iraq when the beating of Rodney King came on the television. Beyond anger and rage, feelings of betrayal are what I remember most. Did our patriotism, our service, our sacrifice matter, when we too, as young Black males could face a fate similar to Rodney King if we were pulled over by the wrong cops at a traffic stop?
The truth is African Americans and other minority groups have always fought for America and for freedoms they themselves couldn’t or weren’t allowed to enjoy. Why? Because they believe in the promise of America even though that promise for far too many remains unfulfilled. As our conversation progressed I asked my uncle about the NFL protest.
“I fought for people to be able to stand, sit, kneel, pray, for them to be able to express themselves and their opinion how they choose. Fighting for those things is why it was worth me going over there. Everybody having to believe the same as you ain’t democracy. “
We concluded our conversation by talking about how different the country is now with its reaction to vets coming home. Soldiers have gone from being cursed and spit on during Vietnam to being thanked for their service
But can we truly say we thank the men and women who serve when we have so many veterans struggling with homelessness and unemployment? The high numbers of suicide don’t merely reflect what our soldiers have been through in war but what they go through upon returning. To truly be grateful for their service we must keep them present in our minds. We are in a war in Afghanistan and have been since 2001. No clear objective, no end in sight, yet more of our fighting men and women continue to be added to this seemingly bottomless soup of chaos.
Instead of just thanking our vets, how about we take some dignity and pride in fighting for them. Let’s make sure they don’t have to struggle for the most basic of needs when they return home. Let’s hold our politicians accountable and demand clear strategies with obtainable objectives before our men and women are sent into harm’s way in our name. We owe our veterans at least that, all of us.
Howard Craft is a playwright who lives in Duham. Wrote to hin in c/o email@example.com and share your reaction to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org