Ft Rucker, Alabama | January 24, 2013
Soldiers and Family members came together to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a commemorative program at the post theater Jan. 17.
The theme of this year's ceremony was "Peace, Passion and Purpose: Everybody can be great because everybody can serve," a theme that Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, said Dr. King lived up to in every aspect.
"We're celebrating today the life of a servant leader who had the personal courage to stand by his convictions, despite being subjugated to the faces of treatment, whether it was beatings or jail," said McRae. "He paid the ultimate sacrifice so that the ground could be level for every American, no matter what your background, skin tone or where you come from – that's his legacy."
McRae said that Dr. King's legacy lives on at Fort Rucker through the men and women that serve on the installation.
"This, right here at Fort Rucker, is [Dr.] Martin Luther King [Jr.'s] vision," he said. "No matter who you are or what your background is, everybody is equal and everybody has the same opportunities."
The program began on a literal high as Sheila Jackson, musician, sang a stunning rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" that garnered praise from audience members and speakers alike.
"When [Jackson] sang the 'Star Spangled Banner,' it gave me chills," said Shandra Owens, civilian. "It was truly a performance that was worthy of a day like today – a day that we remember such an amazing individual and the work that he's done."
Mike Schmitz, mayor of Dothan, was invited to speak at the event and share the story of his life and the purpose he found in it.
"Today's theme is peace, passion and purpose — that's something I can talk about," said Schmitz. "Dr. King was one of the rare Americans who fully lived and embodied this theme. Despite living a life involving passionate protest against violence, he himself met a violent end.
"And despite knowing there were threats and talks of threats against his life, when he spoke publicly on April 3, 1968, he said he was at peace," he continued. "He had an inner peace despite the world around him."
Schmitz shared his personal story of how he came to find inner peace in his life. It was a teacher who ultimately helped him find peace and purpose in life.
He said throughout his life he was abandoned by his mother and father, and although he was adopted by a godly Family, it took a teacher who believed in him for him to believe in himself.
"Her name was Mrs. Howell," he said. "Mrs. Howell took her time to get to know me … and [she] saw me as who I could be and not who I was at the time — she gave me the tools to succeed."
Schmitz said he found his purpose later in life when he helped start the Wiregrass Children's Home in Wicksburg.
"That's my purpose," he said. "Dr. King lived a life of purpose and passion. He died in service for peace. There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither political nor popular, but you must do it because your conscious tells you it's right."
Schmitz went on to thank service members for the sacrifices they make and the purpose they provide.
Those in attendance were also treated to musical selections by the Fort Rucker Primary School first grade choir, as well as a rendition of "What A Wonderful World" by Peter Jackson, soprano saxophone player, and his mother, Sheila.
"The entire program was just wonderful," said Owens. "Everything from [Schmitz's] testimonials to the music was just an amazing way to pay tribute to Dr. King. It's really hard to visualize everything that [Dr. King] has done for this country, but it's only proper that we take this time to remember what he sacrificed for us."