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World War II soldiers
All-Asian 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II

ITC hosts 'Fighting for Democracy' multimedia exhibit

By James Benavides
Public Affairs Specialist

(July 29, 2008)--The new exhibit, "Fighting for Democracy," at UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures asks the question, "Who is the 'we' in 'We, the people?" Presented in three chapters -- pre-war, wartime and post-war -- the exhibit uses photographs, video, and interactive and multimedia displays to profile seven ethnic and minority Americans living through World War II. The exhibit runs through Jan. 18, 2009.

A time of great social change in the United States, World War II brought the racial integration of the armed forces and saw many Americans of color serve with distinction including the Tuskegee airmen, the Navajo code talkers and the all-Asian 442nd Regimental Combat Team. During the war and after, these soldiers and their people often were denied the freedoms they fought to protect.

Among the heroes profiled is 2nd Lt. Roger C. "Bill" Terry, an African-American officer and Tuskegee airman in the Army Air Corps. He and other African-American officers were banned from the officer's club at Freeman Air Field, which by rank they had every right to use. When he led 160 black officers into the club, Terry was charged with disobeying a direct order during a time of war. He avoided a death sentence, but was still convicted of a felony for allegedly jostling a military police officer. Terry was dishonorably discharged from the army and would live another 50 years in dishonor before the army issued an apology.

Others profiled in the exhibit include:

  • Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American G. I. Forum, who fought for Mexican Americans denied medical benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • George Saito, a Japanese American soldier who died on the front lines while his parents were in an American internment camp
  • Carl Gorman, a Navajo code talker who left family and children at home, where the Navajo language was forbidden in schools
  • Hazel Ying Lee, a member of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military, denied a military burial becasuee WASPs were classified as civil servants, not active military
  • Domingo Los Baños, a Filipino American scout, whose citizenship and veteran's benefits were rescinded in 1946 when the Philippines gained independence
  • Frances Slanger, a Polish Jew and a nurse called "The American Nightingale" who was killed in action with the 45th Field Hospital in the European Theater

Because of laws at the time, many immigrants were denied U.S. citizenship. Many waited in detainment centers that resembled prisons at Ellis Island on the Atlantic coast and Angel Island on the Pacific coast. Other groups often lived in ghettos and tenement buildings, while many businesses refused to serve Asians and African-Americans.

While more than one million African-Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, none received the Medal of Honor, America's highest award for valor. Only two Asian Americans received it. Fifty years after the war it was determined that racial discrimination affected the awarding process for the medal. In 1997, seven African-Americans and 22 Asian Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor.

"Fighting for Democracy" is a traveling exhibit from the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Admission to the ITC lower gallery exhibit is free, but does not include admission to the main exhibit floor.

UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures is at 801 S. Bowie St. (on Durango Boulevard at Interstate 37), San Antonio, Texas 78205. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m., Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults; $4 for children, seniors and military; free with UTSACard.

For more information, visit the Institute of Texan Cultures Web site or call (210) 458-2330.

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