Non-Citizen Soldiers: Thoughts on the 4th of July

“I had the pleasure of watching 165 soldiers become U.S. citizens,” reported another soldier being interviewed in Iraq in response to the question of how she spent the 4th of July. She continued, “They have been here fighting, even without the benefit of citizenship.”

I was watching the news while walking on the treadmill at the gym, which gave me time to ponder this statement – particularly in light of the immigration debate in Congress. Back at home I did a little research. According to a July 5, 2005 article in the Christian Science Monitor, approximately seven percent of U.S. soldiers at that time were green card holders – and the percentage was expected to increase.

My ancestors had not arrived at the time of the Declaration of Independence. It would be over 100 years before my grandfather, William Jonas Brodie, arrived in Chicago from Ontario, Canada. Within four years, he was one of the non-citizen soldiers, a private with Company “C” of the 1st Regiment of the Chicago Volunteers for the short-lived Spanish-American War. He enlisted again two years later in the Cavalry and was stationed in Ft. Riley, KS and Ft. Sill, OK. He is standing 4th from the right with his unit at Ft. Riley.

William Jonas Brodie - Ft. Riley

William Jonas Brodie – Ft. Riley

He, like today’s immigrant soldiers, later was granted citizenship and is buried with full Military Honors at the Veterans Administration Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Great-granddaughter Lilli Farrar honoring his grave - Memorial Day 2015

Great-granddaughter Lilli Farrar honoring his grave – Memorial Day 2015

For a young immigrant, who listed his occupation as a carpenter, he was undoubtedly lured, not only by the opportunity to avenge the sinking of one of the United States’ naval ships, but the opportunity perhaps for more stable pay.

There is a parallel today. Following the Civil War, the regular army units were exhausted and at a low ebb. Recruiting volunteers to fight in the Spanish-American War was the beginning of what became the National Guard. Today the enlisted corps remains low and the National Guard volunteers again fill a critical role. With current sentiment against the Iraq war, combined with the 30,000 additional troops needed for the President’s ‘surge,’ foreign nationals are a logical source of potential soldiers.

Today, green-card holders answer the call of the military, both to improve their chances of becoming citizens and to show loyalty to the country they consider their home. They are willing to serve in the military, even though they cannot vote. There are other immigrants, those who came to the United States as children, who also consider this their home. Yet, because they are here illegally, are not able to serve in the military. While Pentagon officials are talking about recruiting foreign mercenaries, they are reluctant to allow those who are here illegally to enlist.

Soldiers don’t always fight bravely and then return home unscathed. Very few soldiers in the Spanish-American War died from bullets. Many more died from disease. And, those who recovered from tropical diseases, e.g. malaria, dealt with the consequences for the rest of their lives. My grandfather ended up being bitter and requiring on-going medical treatment throughout his life.

The story is as grim for immigrant soldiers today. Jorge Mariscal, writing in the online political magazine Counterpunch, stated: “For the permanent residents who found themselves in Iraq, their circuitous path to college carried them from Latin America to the U.S. to Baghdad, al-Nasiriyah, and Mosul. Some of them will not be attending classes as they and their families had hoped. Instead they died in the line of duty and subsequently received posthumous citizenship amidst much fanfare and flag-waving.”

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