An 8-by-10 photograph of Army Pfc. Brandon Ingram Fisher holds court below the doorbell chime at the home of his parents, Tim and Robin Fisher.
His mahogany complexion appears as chiseled as a recruiting poster -- his expression stoic, brown, almond-shaped eyes piercing with bayonet-sharp determination.
The Fishers keep his picture there to remind them of the joyous day when that doorbell will ring. They will open the front door to reveal their son standing tall at 5-foot-10 in his crisp green uniform. And his familiar grin will serve as a testament to a single fact -- at last, he has made it safely back home.
Still, the doorbell ring and the foreboding knock-at-the-door are sounds they have also come to fear. They know their son is based in a place where gunfire, bombs and death are as common as the Michael Jordan and Larry Bird posters that once decorated his bedroom wall.
"I don't like looking at the news that much because of the things you hear about every day -- the bombings, trucks exploding and killings," Robin admits. "You never know when that time is going to come, that someone is going to knock at the door (because something has happened to) your family member. I worry about that a lot."
The story of Brandon Ingram Fisher is a snapshot in the long historical continuum of black men and women who have answered the call to protect a nation, one whose shores their ancestors first arrived in shackles and chains.
Despite that history, ever since the death of Crispus Attucks -- who on March 5, 1770, was the first person to die in the American Revolution -- blacks have played a dynamic and important role in nearly every war the U.S. has fought. From the American Revolution to the legendary Buffalo Soldiers of the frontier to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, blacks in the American military have given their lives to defend an ideal that is at the core of the American dream, but was not always within arm's reach: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
Historical record aside, serving during a time of war means extended periods away from families and friends back home, which also takes a toll. While families wait for their loved ones at home, many blacks raise sobering questions about the war, particularly as their sons and daughters return to Iraq for second and third tours of duty.
In Merced, there are many black families whose sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are serving in Iraq. The following is a story about two of those families, the Fishers and the Ameys, and how they are coping as their sons fight overseas in a seemingly endless war.
These black Mercedians are threads in the rich military tapestry woven over centuries by black Americans, who make up about 13.8 percent of the U.S. population. Blacks have always played a major role on the battlefield. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are no different.
According to the Department of Defense, blacks have accounted for about 9.4 percent of the military deaths in Iraq, since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Of the 3,840 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, 362 were black troops. The majority of those deaths were in the Army, with 310; there have been 39 black Marine deaths, seven Navy deaths and six Air Force deaths.
Thirty-five of the 454 U.S. military deaths, or 7.7 percent, in Afghanistan since combat operations began there in October 2001 have been black troops -- 27 in the Army, four Marines and four in the Navy.
In the Gulf War, blacks accounted for 66 (three of whom were women) of the 372 deaths, 17.7 percent.