(Via Ho’okele News)
American Forces Press Service
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel honored the legacy and memory of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 16 at the Pentagon’s annual MLK Day observance.
Joining the secretary to give the event’s keynote speech was Army Col. Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered severe arm and hand injuries during his third deployment to Iraq. Gadson now serves as garrison commander of Fort Belvoir, Va.
King was an American pastor, activist, humanitarian and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement who was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. In 1964 King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.
“The rights that make America free, rights that this department protects and defends, come with heavy responsibilities like taking care of our people, looking out for one another, and lending a hand to those in need. Martin Luther King knew that,” Hagel told the audience.
King knew that no matter how one serves, the secretary added, service is ultimately about people, and hope for a better life and a better world, and “through all the struggles and sacrifices turning that hope into reality.”
King “was a man of vision, a man of passion, a man of commitment,” the secretary said.
“He dedicated his life to a cause larger than his own self-interest, a cause that would spread across our nation and around the globe,” Hagel said of the late civil rights leader.
Hagel said he was serving in Vietnam in 1968 with his brother Tom when he heard about King’s death.
“Everyone was silent,” the secretary recalled. The tragedy, he said, threatened to deepen a racial divide that was already hurting the morale and effectiveness of his unit and others in Vietnam.
“I recall the courage of our company commander in Vietnam, [Army] Lt. Jerome Johnson. He was a 23-year-old African American from Chicago who was drafted into the Army. He went to [Officer Candidate School]. Soon thereafter he was in Vietnam. His older brother had been killed in Vietnam the year before,” Hagel added.
Everyone in the Pentagon and the department knows that serving together means fighting together, he added, and that military members serve knowing that diversity is at the heart of each service’s strength.
“As Dr. King said, ‘Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve … You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.’”
Hagel said Gadson is an example of that.
“Even after he sacrificed so much for his country, he refused to let adversity keep him down.”