ALIAMANU MILITARY RESERVATION -- The Army community gathered, here, at the chapel, Wednesday, to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii's annual ethnic observance, hosted by the 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support).

King, a pastor, activist and proponent of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 1960s, brought about sweeping advancements to the civil rights movement that remain relevant to this day -- and are apparent in today's U.S. Army.

"Because of (the efforts and struggles that occurred in the past), the Army and our country are able to accept all individuals, regardless of race, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, etc.," said Col. Bret T. Ackermann, commander of the 18th MEDCOM (DS). "They have afforded opportunities and freedoms to individuals who could not have imagined it all those years ago."

Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Smith of the 18th MEDCOM (DS) shared this sentiment.

"The opportunities I've had to excel wouldn't be possible without (King)," he said. "He brought us a long way."

The U.S. Army was the first service branch to abolish racial discrimination via Executive Order 9981, issued in 1948 by President Harry Truman. It eventually led to the desegregation of all service branches.

Smith had the honor of attending the funeral of Yolanda King, the first-born child of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, in 2007. Smith said his wife was a friend of the King family, and he had been scheduled to meet Yolanda King in person, but she passed away before the meeting could take place.

"But it was an honor to be around the family (at the funeral)," Smith said.

"Things have moved forward a lot, but we still have a way to go," he added. "We still need to strive as a nation."

This echoes the words of King himself, in a speech he delivered during his first visit to Hawaii in September 1959. He made the visit to commemorate Hawaii's statehood and addressed a crowd at the Hawaii State Legislature.

While he described Hawaii as an "inspiration in the area of racial harmony and racial justice," he went on to say, "It is a fact that we have come a long, long way, but in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to move on and say we have a long, long way to go."

While King was well known for his rhetoric -- his "I Have a Dream" speech is widely quoted and disseminated -- it was ultimately his commitment that changed the nation and the world.

Alphonso Braggs, president of the Hawaii Chapter of the NAACP and the guest speaker at Wednesday's event, urged those in attendance to do the same by finding a purpose, getting qualified and genuinely pursuing their dreams.

"Dr. King was often lauded for his academic achievements … but he reminded us that in the end those were not the most important things," Braggs said. "He stated in a speech not long before he died that the person who delivered his eulogy should not talk about his awards … but rather his commitment to serving others."

-- Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ties to Hawaii
•King visited Hawaii in 1959 to commemorate statehood. In a speech at the Hawaii State Legislature, he described Hawaii as an "inspiration and noble example" in the area of racial harmony and racial justice, but emphasized that there was still a long way to go to achieving peace and freedom for all.

•King visited Hawaii again in 1964 to commemorate Civil Rights Week at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

•King developed a close friendship with the late Rev. Abraham Akaka, brother of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. The late Rev. Akaka helped lobby for the passage of a strong civil rights bill in 1964.