Upstate New York Vietnam Veteran Remembers Impact of Martin Luther King Jr.
I was 37-years-old the very first time I visited Washington, D.C. and while my first visit came as an adult rather than a school-aged child as is the case for most, I think the enormity of being there had an even greater impact because I was an adult who had lived a bit of life and had a greater grasp and appreciation for Washington, D.C. as a whole.
It was November 11, 2017, Veterans Day, and Washington was filled with throngs of visitors, more so than usual as they were there to observe the important holiday. As I stood, my back to the Lincoln Memorial, facing the National Mall, I felt an indescribable electricity surge through my veins. When I closed my eyes, I was able to visualize the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on that very spot on that warm summer day in August of 1963, having just taken part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, now eager to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
Despite the fact that the Kennedy administration did their best to get organizers to call the event off, that the FBI discouraged people from attending, that racists politicians did all they could to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that the average American was against his ideology rather than for it, people still showed up and in massive numbers.
If you've never walked the grass of the National Mall the actual grass, not the reflecting pool, then you won't be able to wrap your head around this, but lawn space is only 18 acres in total and an estimated 250,000 people gathered on the lawn to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I live on 10-acres of land and can't quite begin to wrap my head around 250,000 people just hanging out on my property. And yet the National Mall lawn was packed to capacity as people, no doubt filled with a swarm of emotions, strained to hear a message of peace, hope, and unity. A speech that would go down in history as one of the greatest of all time. Last summer when I visited Washington, D.C., I took a few extra minutes to share a video from the National Mall. This might help put the size of the lawn into a better perspective.
Through the Twin Tiers Honor Flight, I have the honor of escorting veterans to Washington, D.C. a couple of times each year to take them to see their memorials and to find some closure and I will never forget the trip that *Frank was on. Frank was a Vietnam Veteran and he shared with me the story of him as a young man who begged his mom to allow him to travel by bus from Upstate New York to Washington, D.C. to be part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and how she reluctantly agreed. Frank found himself among the thousands of people, standing in the National Mall listening to the powerful "I Have A Dream Speech." Frank told me that as he stood there that day, just a young man, he had no idea that only a few years later he would be drafted into the Vietnam war and certainly had no idea that nearly 40-years would pass before his feet would stand on the very same lawn where they had in 1963 when his life was forever changed.
Frank vividly remembered thinking on that August day that it was a privilege to be a citizen of the United States of America, despite the racial differences, and vowed that he would leave his mark on our world and I am here to tell you that he did.
Today, on the day that we remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I urge you to take a listen to his "I Have A Dream" speech and to think about what you are doing in your very own life to promote peace and equality.
*Name changed to protect veteran's privacy.