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Fort Rucker honors MLK Jr. legacy

Sgt. Maj. William S. Hayes, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence G-3 Plans and Projects sergeant major, speaks during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program at the post theater Jan. 14. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Sgt. Maj. William S. Hayes, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence G-3 Plans and Projects sergeant major, speaks during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program at the post theater Jan. 14. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: January 21, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Jan. 21, 2016) -- As the U.S. remembers the life and service of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fort Rucker, too, celebrates the legacy of a man who helped shape a nation.

Hundreds gathered at the post theater Jan. 14 for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program to celebrate King’s life and legacy, and keep his dream alive.

The theme for the observance was “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not A Day Off!” said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander, during the ceremony.

“We are here today to celebrate and to remember Dr. King’s sacrifices, celebrate his accomplishments and to continue to act toward the inclusion of all people,” she said. “Dr. King’s dedication to the service of the people has transcended over the years, and helped shape the Army and its community into being one of the most diverse employers and communities in the nation. You can see that by just taking a look around the room.

“During Dr. King’s lifetime, he encouraged all citizens to pursue the purpose and potential of America,” she continued. “He strived to realize the dream of equality in a nation that affords freedom and justice for all by pioneering the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place to live. This day represents the opportunity for everyone to start the year off right by making a positive impact in our community through volunteering, and also with treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

Throughout the ceremony, scriptures were read and songs were sung in honor of King, and Sgt. Maj. William S. Hayes, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence G-3 Plans and Projects sergeant major, was on hand as the guest speaker to provide his take on what the legacy of King meant to him.

“Truly, Dr. King lived his calling and was passionate about embracing love because he gave so much for you and I,” he said during the observance.

As he spoke, he talked about when King visited with Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement.

At this point in life, according to Hayes, King hadn’t fully embraced the philosophy of nonviolence until hearing a story from Gandhi about a little boy with a temper.

Hayes told the story of the boy whose father gave him a bag of nails to deal with his temper. Every time the boy would lose his temper, the boy was told to hammer a nail into a fence. On the first day, the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. As time progressed, the boy managed to control his temper and put fewer and fewer nails into the fence, until one day he ran to his father and told him that he hadn’t lost his temper at all.

He told his father of his accomplishment, but the father took his hand and led him to the fence and told him to look at the holes in the fence. The lesson was when you say things or act in anger, they leave a scar, just like the holes in the fence, said Hayes.

“You can stab a person with a knife and pull it out, and ask them for forgiveness over and over, but the scar is there for a lifetime,” he said. “A verbal wound hurts just as deep as a physical wound. Racism, gun violence, police brutality and other injustices of today are just like the nails in that fence. The fence is the American Dream – the fabric of this society.”

Hayes also took the congregation on a journey through 450 Mulberry Street in Memphis, Tennessee, where the National Civil Rights Museum is located, also famously known as the Lorraine Motel and site where King was assassinated.

He described a trip through the museum and all of the Civil Rights Movement memorabilia throughout, and described the site where James Earl Ray, the man convicted of King’s assassination, sat when he took the shot.

“Pow!” he said. “(Ray) took a shot. I know some of your thoughts and I can see it on your faces – ‘The audacity of you to mention this event today,’ but let me respond with a thought that even Dr. King would say.

“The dream is still alive and well today. I have been deceased over 48 years, and I assure you, my brothers and sisters, Mr. Ray made a shot, but he didn’t kill the dream,” said Hayes. “I ask you all today, will you take a shot? Take a shot at discrimination? Will you take a shot at racism? Will you take a shot at social injustices happening in our community? James Earl Ray was convicted of assassinating Dr. King, but he shot and killed the dreamer, not the dream. Take a shot, ladies and gentlemen, for civil rights and equality in America is our responsibility.”

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