FORT BRAGG, N.C. –
The legacy of those who served in the “war to end all wars” still resonates today for Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper, deputy chief of the U.S. Army Reserve. Their service and sacrifice has guided him since his youth and continues to inspire him today.
During the World War I Centennial Commemorations in Northern France, Roper had the unique opportunity to walk the same battlefields as his grandfather, Cpl. William Roper, who fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918 while assigned to Company F, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.
“My grandfather’s service wasn’t something he talked about, but he lived and carried it with his everyday example,” said Roper. “He was a man who was extremely professional, respectful and really had a heart for service.
“Just seeing that generation’s legacy of leadership and selfless-service to our Nation had an impact on me – so at an early age I knew that I wanted to be in the Army.”
Striving for that same degree of excellence (or, following in his grandfather’s footsteps) has, in part, led Roper to the second highest position in the Army Reserve; an unthinkable achievement in his grandfather’s time.
“My grandfather was in a segregated unit – or a colored unit as they were referred to then,” said Roper. “The entire 92nd Infantry Division was a colored division.”
More than 350,000 African-Americans served in segregated units during the course of WWI.
“That generation led the way through extreme hardship and tremendous friction,” said Roper. “When you really think about it – they were in France fighting for freedom, but yet they themselves didn’t experience that freedom at home.
“We know the Army did not desegregate until 1945, but most of those units were commanded by Caucasian officers,” said Roper. “There were a few units back then that were commanded by colored officers, and his was one them. I know that was something he was proud of.
“So now, two generations removed, to be able to return to the battlefields that he walked, as a major general in the Army Reserve, actually shows that this Army we serve has its principles right, its priorities right, and it understands its purpose.
“I think my grandad would be absolutely amazed and astounded that the Army he served in has grown, developed and matured to such an extent that his grandson can now serve as deputy chief of the Army Reserve.”
The changes from then to now can be overwhelming - especially when standing on the ground fought for and won by your forebears, said Roper.
“It was a wonder I didn’t start crying,” said Roper. “I felt a tremendous sense of inspiration, humility and a sense of responsibility.
“I felt this weight to make sure I pay it forward – it’s something I’ve tried to do my entire career, but it really re-motivated me and encouraged me, to make sure I do everything to live up to the legacy that they exemplified – and make sure we do everything we can to pull others up.”