The sound of clapping hands accompanying the voices of the Largo High School Choir of Upper Marlboro rang through Club Meade on Jan. 19.
The renowned choir moved side to side as they performed three songs, in addition to an interpretive dance by three students, that paid tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The performance was part of the installation’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance, which was organized by the Fort Meade garrison’s Equal Opportunity Office. The theme was “Remember! Celebrate! Act! A Day On, Not A Day Off.”
“Personally, [MLK Day] is a reminder to never be idle,” said Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Chambers, garrison senior enlisted adviser for the EEO. “Always be active and look for opportunities to make an impact in your community.”
The guest speaker was retired Maj. Robert Ewell Greene, an educator and author.
The 90-minute event began with the singing of the national anthem by Spc. Matthew Wiley, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade. Chaplain (Maj.) Michael G. Pauls Sr., deputy command chaplain of the 200th Military Police Command, gave the invocation.
The observance focused on King’s legacy of service to others and served as a reminder for all in attendance to continue to give back to the community.
Posters of the slain civil rights leader were displayed around the ballroom as a brief video of King’s life and legacy featuring Georgia Sen. John Lewis and King’s daughter Bernice King, chief executive officer of the King Center, was played.
Voncile Farmer, Fort Meade’s Volunteer Corps program manager; Diane Sancilio, director of volunteer services at Hospice of the Chesapeake; and Melyssa Haubenstricker, Fort Meade’s USO center supervisor, each spoke about the numerous volunteer opportunities available on and off post.
The midday event was followed by a reception.
Serving Before Civil Rights
In his speech, Greene presented a collection of anecdotes from his military service.
Greene joined the Army in 1955 as a second lieutenant, just as military leaders and service secretaries were initiating efforts to integrate black Soldiers with white and Hispanic units, he said.
This effort was part of President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which committed the government to integrating the military.
Taking the audience back to the beginning of his service, Greene recalled his first assignment at Fort Belvoir, Va., to attend the engineer officers basic training.
Greene had to complete the first two weeks of a basic officers military leadership orientation program to continue on to basic training.
“There were 10 black second lieutenants in a class of some 200 officers,” he said. “Seven of us were graduates of Lincoln University of Missouri, a separate but equal school for blacks in Missouri. You see, when a black school in that day had an ROTC [Reserve Officer’s Training Corps], it had to be the same ROTC as a white school.”
One memory Greene never forgot was an interaction with a white lieutenant during his first days at Fort Belvoir.
“[The lieutenant said:] ‘You’re from Lincoln University and you will never pass this course,’ ” Greene recalled. “… When I passed that course, I knew I could do anything if I believed in myself.”
From Fort Belvoir, Greene was assigned to Korea.
“While I was reading my orders, I noticed I had another name — No. 2,” he said. “Beside No. 2, I was Negro. The whites were No. 1.”
Greene also spoke about his first assignment in Germany, when he was called an American at the Frankfurt airport.
“That was the first time in my life that anyone had called me an American without a prefix,” he said.
After recounting his history in the military, Greene directly addressed the service members seated in Club Meade.
“You are serving today in the most integrated segment of American society — the U.S. military,” Greene said. “I have no regrets for the shortcomings that I incurred during my military career. I survived the imperfections of the military. However, I’ve been blessed to live to see great progress in the equitable treatment of all women and men in the military.
“So, I challenge each and every one of you to carry the torch of progress.”
After the speech, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard presented Greene with a glass plaque and thanked him for all he had done for the country.
“Those who are ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it,” Rickard said.
Remembering A Legacy
Among those in attendance was Warrant Officer LaToya Gates.
“It was interesting to hear from someone who served when the military was segregated,” she said. “To hear what he went through and to see how far we’ve come — it’s inspiring.”
Gates said she learned the significance of King’s dream of racial equality as a child.
“I grew up hearing my parents and grandparents talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and what he did for the African-American community,” she said. “Growing up, I went to church or celebrated MLK Day at home. Now that I’m in the military, I come here to pay my respects to MLK for what he did for our country.”
Capt. Cheryl Hooker of Headquarters Command Battalion was excited to attend the ceremony as well.
“I usually come to these annual observances,” she said. “I think they contribute greatly to the Fort Meade community.”
For Hooker, King’s celebrated history of serving the country is similar to that of the military.
“What he represented in serving the entire nation and leading by example — it’s humbling,” she said. “He did everything non-violently.
“It reminds me of what the military does; we give up time with our families and risk our lives for the greater good.”