SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - I'll be the first to admit, I don't get it. I don't get why there is the need to have a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or a month dedicated to one cultural ethnic group or another.

Yup, I'm white and as mixed a mutt as most white Americans. A genealogy list would be out of the scope of this article, so let's just say I'm predominately Gaelic, Norse and a Jew (by choice), with others thrown in for spice.

As a military brat, I never saw color. I just analyzed whether a person could do a job or was worth hanging out with.

Remember, segregation in the military was banned in 1948. When sailors visited my family, my parents set the standard to socialize with people of all races and colors.

No, I never "lived the struggle" as my friends used to tell me. I still base my understanding from my experiences.

Being from the Northwest, my grandparents didn't have stories about segregation or the "Million Man March." My grandmother talked about homesteading, the 200 years of civil war the Irish fought against the English, and being discriminated against for being Irish. In fact, when I was stationed in the United Kingdom in the early 90s, some hotels still displayed signs that read "No Irishmen or dogs will get a room here."

One person in my extended Jewish family tells me he knows his life is worth two bags of grain, because that's how much it cost the U.S. to release him from the Soviet Union as a child.

When I joined the military, cultural diversity was part of my value system. I took from all the people I was exposed to, what appealed to me. I incorporated their attributes into my thinking. I never cared what color my co-workers were. Again, I just cared if they could do their job and could I count on them in a pinch'

It wasn't until I was stationed in Mississippi that I realized not everyone thought the same way I did. I recall the late 90s, when I drove from Maryland to Mississippi. During the trip across Alabama, I noticed many establishments inconspicuously displayed Ku Klux Klan stickers.

I discovered the distrust and dislike was on both sides of the racial divide. Once, while walking with my lovely black girlfriend, we were accosted by a group of black men and told we should be "dating our own kind."

Another time, a black staff sergeant and I were kicked out of a mini-mart because we were told, "His money is no good here and neither is yours." Sure enough, on the right corner of the building we noticed a KKK sticker.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached inclusion. He preached a world without color, so why do we separate this day from others' Why do we separate and single out African-American culture from all the other American cultures'

King was a soldier who fought for freedom for all people. His weapons were the Bible and the conviction that he was doing the right thing. Like many soldiers, he paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. That, in itself, is worth remembering.

This special day is a reminder that education is the best way to dispel fears. People who learn their history and the history of others can work hard to keep history from repeating itself. The adage "Treat your neighbor as you would like to be treated" knows no color.

While every day should be lived with respect to all people, cultures and religions, Monday's holiday has transformed into a day where people of all ages and backgrounds should come together to improve lives, bridge social barriers and move the nation closer to the beloved community that King envisioned.

Page last updated Fri January 16th, 2009 at 15:23