FORT IRWIN, Calif.-When retired Col. Nathan Thomas, Jr. spoke at Fort Irwin and the National Training Center's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration on Tuesday, he didn't share King's dream from the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Instead Thomas, who participated in the civil rights movement including the walk from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery, Ala., shared King's dream for the Fort Irwin and National Training Center community in the present day.

"While he is someone who will be remembered I say to you, 'Be someone that you will be remembered that will deliver the goods," Thomas said. "What you do in your community will stand out for a lifetime. Dr. King would want you to do those things."

King dared those around him to step forward and dare to take the responsibility of being a human being, which will bring everyone closer together, he said.

In light of the shootings in Arizona on Jan. 8, which injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, Thomas said the first thing King would say is, "Stop the hate."

"Debate is one thing. Killing of each other would not have been an option for Dr. King," he said. "He loved debate. He taught us all of how to debate and to certainly respect each other's opinion."

That doesn't mean people will necessarily agree, but they do respect each other's opinions, he said.

"The idea now has gotten to the point of people pinpointing each other to kill each other," he said. "I think his message would be to stop the hate and, 'Let's get back to some basic understanding that I may not agree but I'm willing to listen to what you have to say.'"

That communication might open common ground, which is what King strived to find, he said.

From his own experiences Thomas fought racism when he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War.

When he went to the draft board and requested a deferment because he had two years of college, Thomas said he clearly remembers the response to his request.

"She said in no uncertain terms this to me, 'N-----s do not get deferments,' and I went to Vietnam," he said. "But I told her, I said, 'I will live to the day that I come back just to meet you,' and fortunately, I did."

Now Thomas said he doesn't believe the military comes close to that.

As he closed, Thomas thanked Fort Irwin and the National Training Center for inviting him to speak at the event.

"The wonderful thing is really about you and keeping that spirit alive and also keeping the idea of how a beloved community works together," Thomas said. "All that directly fits in with Dr. King, so when you're doing that you become magnified even greater."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16