Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling

In the Hertling family, we have many traditions. One is listening to the "I have a dream…" speech every year on the 16th of January. The words and emotions associated with that most memorable oration by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has always reminded us that the dignity of man is deeply rooted in who we are -- and who we should be -- as a Nation.

Having grown up in the turbulent sixties, I've always been interested in the Civil Rights movement. A few years ago, while training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, I had the opportunity to wander around downtown Montgomery on a free weekend. On a warm Sunday morning, I found the historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church; several of the congregants were outside after attending a mid-morning service, and I drew up the courage to approach a small group, introduce myself, and tell them of my interest in the history of their movement. They were friendly, and excited to tell me stories.

Several older men told me of the night their pastor Dr. King's house was bombed, and we walked up the street from the church to see that small home. Some of the older women then told me how they had participated in the Montgomery-Selma marches, and they relayed their struggle. Others spoke of the young children who were killed while attending Sunday school in a church bombing. During our conversation, we strolled to the Civil Rights fountain, and one older gentleman relayed his personal knowledge of the several people who were memorialized on that beautiful sculpture outside the Civil Rights Museum. This was living history, and listening to these wonderful people was one of the better memories of my life.

They all agreed that were it not for Dr. King, their lives and our nation would still be very different today.

In our military, we have celebrated stories of African-American patriots. We celebrate the 186,000 Soldiers that fought from first shots at Fort Sumter to final hours of Gettysburg. We honor the legendary Tuskegee Airman that braved the skies in World War II. Many know the inspiring stories of William Harvey Carney, the first African-American to earn the Medal of Honor or Colin Powell, the first African-American to serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All are stories of inspiration, justice, and acceptance. These are stories of leaders, and these are stories from those who are led; they are stories of those who fight for the dignity of man, while they fight for their own self-dignity. And they are stories that reflect the beliefs and the words of Dr. King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Our Army was and is a part of the Civil Rights struggle, and we are better for it every day. That's why Martin Luther King Day, to me, is a time to reflect on who we are, and what we can be. Enjoy the holiday, be safe, and take a moment to reflect on our history, and our future.

Page last updated Wed January 4th, 2012 at 08:14