04 April 2009


today marks the 41st anniversary of the assassination of dr. martin luther king, jr. as with certain seminal events in our lives, e.g. the assassination of john f. kennedy or the terrorist attacks on the world trade center, i recall vividly where i was when i first heard the news of martin's death. it was during my year in south vietnam, and i was a radioteletype operator assigned on TDY (temporary duty) to a mobile artillery batter of 155mm self-propelled howitzers. we were setting up a fire support base in cholon, the chinese district of saigon, in a muddy paddy next to a buddhist temple. that day we were sweaty from the heat and humidity, and working hard to set up timber platforms for the guns and establish a defensive perimeter.

the news reached us on AFVN radio around midday. i was stunned. being (a) politically naive, and (b) halfway around the globe from events at home, i had no idea how the public might react. i recall thinking that cities with significant black populations might be in for protests and maybe rioting. in this i wasn't mistaken. but far, far overshadowing the initial outpouring of anger was a nearly universal shadow of loss and grief, both in the u.s. and among the g.i.s i knew in vietnam.

dr. king left a legacy of sharply-defined principles of justice, of an assertive yet non-violent confrontation of evil, and a vision of a world in which people would be "judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." evil still dwells in the world, racism is far from a thing of the past. still, i wish that dr. king, malcolm x, and so many other civil rights activists had lived to see the day when a black u.s. senator was elected to the presidency. slowly, slowly, we're getting there.

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