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Pentagon Observes Martin Luther King's Birthday

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2005 – Martin Luther King Jr. was remembered by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a Pentagon breakfast Jan. 13 as "a man of historic consequence" who helped his country find its way.

King's Jan. 15 birthday is observed by a national holiday that falls this year on Jan. 17. He was assassinated April 4, 1968.

Rumsfeld told the gathering that the struggle for equality King championed is one that had gone on since the nation's birth. "It took centuries to ingrain the necessity of full equality into our nation's soul," the secretary said. "The recognition that freedom includes all of the people, so clear today, required the passionate efforts of millions of people, some here in this room."

Rumsfeld noted the patience required in bringing equality about by peaceful means. "It called for great patience to withstand great injustice," he said. "It required the quiet power of peaceful protest, and it took the leadership of men like Dr. Martin Luther King and the millions of Americans that joined his cause."

As a congressional staff in the 1950s and as a congressman in the 1960s, Rumsfeld was involved in civil rights legislation. He shared personal memories of King with the audience.

"He was a spellbinding and courageous orator," the secretary said, "certainly as comfortable in the halls of Congress as he was in the houses of worship. And what made his message so compelling was that he contained in his remarks the simple and uncomfortable truth. He made Americans look in the mirror and realize how far we had yet to travel."

The secretary called King "a man of historic consequence" who gave his all for a country that needed his help in finding its way. "He once said, 'If a man hasn't discovered something that he would die for, he isn't fit to live,'" Rumsfeld recalled. "And he certainly lived his beliefs."

Rumsfeld said King's vision is evident in today's armed forces, noting that the military was among the first American institutions to recognize that "skin color is of no consequence during times of peril or peace." It's portrayed in new hope for the Iraqi people who are about to elect a national assembly, and for women in Afghanistan who had been repressed by Taliban rule, he added, who now can sing, go to school, visit a doctor and vote.

"These are testaments to Dr. King's adage that freedom is never voluntarily given by oppressors it must be demanded by the oppressed," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary said none of those examples of King's living vision would have been possible without America and its allies leading the way. "And America would not have the moral authority it has were it not for those of our citizens who forced our nation to confront shortcomings that existed and realize that our dreams must include everyone," he said.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

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