The Healing Power of an Apology for a Wronged World War II Vet

Whenever Veteran’s Day draws near, I am reminded of the story of Samuel Snow who believed an apology was important enough to wait more than six decades to receive one. In July of 2008, a then 84-year-old Snow traveled across the nation to accept a formal apology and an honorable discharge from the United States Army. According to media reports just hours later, the World War II veteran from Leesburg, Florida, died in a Seattle hospital.

“My dad has been standing in formation all these years, waiting to have his name cleared. With the Army’s honorable discharge, he was at ease…and he went home,” said Ray Snow, son of the late soldier in a released statement after his father’s death.

On American Soil In 1944, Samuel Snow was one of twenty-eight black soldiers wrongly convicted of rioting charges resulting in the death of an Italian prisoner of war. In his book, On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II, author Jack Hamann pointed to “serious flaws” in the prosecution of the case. According to Seattle Times staff reporter, Sandi Doughton, “Hamann championed the cause of the black GIs. His investigation cast suspicion on a white military policeman, now dead, as the prime suspect in the murder of the Italian soldier.”

After Snow’s conviction, he spent 15 months in a military prison and received a dishonorable discharge, which greatly altered his life opportunities. Upon his release, the African American soldier returned to a then segregated Leesburg, and his “dishonorable discharge” became a sort of “death sentence” according to Ray Snow. The senior Snow could only find work as a janitor or handyman following the scandal, but he was a man of deep faith who refused to grow bitter. Although his son who became an elementary teacher in Leesburg said that it became his father’s “mission” to obtain official documentation regarding his innocence.

This tragic tale points to the significance of an apology. Sadly, the ability to admit wrong in life’s lesser matters than the grievous offense Snow suffered has been radically altered by our progressively lawsuit happy world. To explain, blame seems to be readily pronounced in our society, despite motivation or intent in many situations. That’s why fear can keep an individual or organization from assuming responsibility for a mistake or error, because it could result in life-altering financial or professional consequences. Still, a sincere request for forgiveness can be an influential tool in mending any rift. Besides validating the offended party, it can also set the perpetrator free of the guilt that wrongdoing intended or unintended can create. Yet when the words, “I’m sorry,” are said, it appears to matter a great deal how they are delivered.

That’s why the method we use to apologize can contribute to whether the apology will5 Languages of Apology be accepted according to the classic book, The Five Languages of Apology. Co-authored by Dr. Gary Chapman who also wrote the New York Times bestseller, The Five Love Languages, the book’s cover explains that, “Sometimes, saying, ‘I’m sorry’ just isn’t enough.” Chapman and co-author Dr. Jennifer Thomas believe that there are people who have been wronged who need to hear the offender not only confess regret, but also accept responsibility for their actions. Along with accountability, there is the act of “making restitution” by asking, “What can I do to make it right?” This might also be necessary, if it is the injured individual’s language of apology according Chapman and Thomas.

For Snow, a 2002 verbal apology by an Army major general just wasn’t enough. That’s why the elderly man traveled from his Florida home to Seattle with his son in July 2008 to attend the ceremony honoring him and the 27 other falsely accused GIs posthumously, because all but one other soldier had died. Snow refused to let questionable health prevent him from making the historic trip. Unfortunately, the aged veteran was hospitalized in Seattle and unable to attend. His son went instead. Returning to his dad’s hospital room, Ray presented his father with the framed honorable discharge from the ceremony. Reports say the falsely convicted man held the official plaque in his arms, clutched it to his heart, and smiled. With his dignity finally restored, he died just hours later. Like every dedicated soldier with his mission accomplished, I’m hopeful that Samuel angel grave marker'Snow is now resting in peace enjoying a hero’s reward. But I wish I could extend the same gratitude to him that every military man or woman deserves to hear, “Thank you for your service!”

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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Why we celebrate MLK Jr. Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1986, our country celebrated the first Martin Luther King Jr. day. It all began just four days after King’s April 4, 1968 assassination when U.S. rep. John Conyers Jr., D-MI, first submitted legislation to commemorate the slain civil rights leader’s Jan. 15th birthday. Then in 1970 Congress received petitions with more than six million signatures in favor of the act. Finally, in November 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Act.

Christopher Columbus and George Washington are the only other individuals having a national holiday in their honor. Some critics have questioned why one national leader, regardless of how esteemed, should have his birthday celebrated claiming there were presidents and statesmen who also deserve recognition.

Twenty years ago, Seattle Times reporter Paul Andrews wrote, “The odds against the new holiday were imposing. The arguments opposing it – cost to taxpayers, singling him out over others – have been used for decades to resist creation of any new holiday.” Still, there are imposing reasons for it. The late minister appears not to have been motivated by political strategy or notoriety, but was a nonviolent warrior championing the rights of all men. Born Jan. 15, 1929, in segregated Atlanta to a pastor and a former schoolteacher, King later followed his father’s professional footsteps.

He enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary after earning his Bachelor’s degree in 1948 from Morehouse College in Atlanta. By 1955, he had completed his doctoral dissertation. He and his wife, Coretta Scott King moved to Montgomery, AL, to begin a pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. It was there that King’s fight for civil rights began when he mobilized the black community during a 382 day boycott of the Montgomery bus lines. It was sparked by an incident when a young African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. At first, the new pastor was reluctant to get involved, but eventually he accepted leadership of the movement.

Rosa Parks is booked.

Rosa Parks is booked.

His leadership was based on “a doctrine of nonviolent protest taking the Christian principle of turning the other cheek out of the pulpit and onto the street,” according to a 1997 A&E television documentary. King said, “We strive to advocate nonviolence and passive resistance and still determine to use the weapon of love.”

Later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public transportation was unconstitutional. But there had already been a cost to King. He had to overcome arrest, violent harassment, and the bombing of his home. He also began receiving “up to 50 letters or phone calls a day, that he should leave town or face death,” according to King biographer David Garrow. He said, “King was resigned to the fact that his leadership role inevitably meant that sooner or later he would be killed.” King persevered in his nonviolent battle against segregation, despite the fact that the violent persecution against him never ceased. He was stabbed in New York in 1958. He was also jailed in a state penitentiary in the early 1960s for sitting at an Atlanta lunch counter that was for whites’ only.

1963 March onWashingtonIn 1965, there was the “Selma” movement as King Jr. led the cause of gaining equal voting rights, despite documented violence. The recently released movie has been highly debated for historical inaccuracy regarding the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson. Still, it is not a documentary, but an important Hollywood remembrance of a bloody 50-year-old struggle. Perhaps though, King Jr. is best known for the glorious moment in 1963 when he spoke to a crowd of 250,000 people gathered for the March in Washington, which was organized to support the Civil Rights Bill.

Yet he didn’t want to be remembered for earthly accolades. He told this to the congregation of Ebenezer Baptist Church two months prior to his assassination. That day, King spoke about the kind of funeral he would like to have, wanting there to be no mention of his 1964 Nobel Peace or countless other awards. Rather, he asked that someone say, “Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others.”

MLK Jr. was a world changer, but not a perfect man. He was a flawed human being like all of us, who had a dream and followed it, despite the weighty cost. His own Christian theology would assert that he is “free at last,” living in the “promised land.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact through her Website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com 

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