Watching Martin Luther King Jr. from Vietnam’s Rice Paddies

When Ernie Washington and his best friend Sonny joined the Marines in the 1960s, they were sent to a far-off jungle, and came back to a changed America.

Ernie Washington was nearly 18 on that day 50 years ago when Sheriff Bill Clark and his all-white crew of cops tried to prevent a wave of history from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Tear gas, clubs and dogs slowed progress down on that Sunday. But the voices demanding equality were a lot louder and lingered longer and more powerfully than the screams, the horror and the brutal images Clark and his men carved into the ugly, barren landscape of race and hate in America.

“I remember seeing it on the TV news,” Ernie Washington was saying. “I remember my mom and my pop telling me to watch it. Watch it and remember it, they told me. Remember it.”

Spring turned to summer and Ernie Washington graduated from Boston Trade High School in 1965. Diploma in hand, he and his best friend “Sonny” Davis eagerly and proudly joined the United States Marine Corps, two young black men both thinking they were embarking on a great adventure. They hoped to see the world beyond the block where they lived.

“Only thing Sonny and I ever traveled on before was the trolley,” Ernie Washington was saying. “Now we were taking trains and buses and going to Parris Island for basic. It was exciting to us.”

A page fell off the calendar and ’65 became 1966. America was slowly sinking into a war in a far-off country neither young man had ever heard of before. The other war—the constant one against bigotry, prejudice and a hate so deep that its scars were being written in history—continued here daily, with hard fought victories called the Voting Rights Act that slowly but surely took territory once held by segregationists.

“We were kind of naïve,” Washington remembers. “Sonny and I. Young and naïve. And proud too. Wore that uniform everywhere. We were Marines.”

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SOURCE: Mike Barnicle
The Daily Beast

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