Barack Obama and a bag full of memories

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Today on Twin Cities Public Television I watched former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell address the 19th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

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Given his career-advancing role in covering-up the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, his senseless slaughter of Iraqi soldiers and civilians on the “Highway of Death” in Gulf War I, and his deceptive UN address that enabled Bush to disastrously invade and occupy Iraq, I felt he shouldn’t have been invited by the United Negro College Fund and others to speak. Nevertheless, he gave a superb address in which he recalled his first days in the Army after Harry Truman officially desegregated the military and racial hostility was still rampant.

During the Korean War in June of 1952, I and a handful of other airmen were in a temporary barrack waiting to be shipped after completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. I was lying in a bunk when I heard scuffling and angry shouting. I rushed to the the end of the barrack and saw three or four white airmen standing over a small, frightened black airman. I told them to “knock it off!” When one of them told me to “get out of here nigger lover,” I grabbed him and threw him about ten feet down the aisle; the others backed off.

A few minutes later the black airman came to my bunk and in a hushed voice thanked me. He was from Alabama and had never left home until he came to Lackland. He saw my empty duffle bag, asked me to write my name and serial number, asked if he could take the bag to his bunk, and spent over two hours quietly working on it. The next morning I shook his hand, wished him farewell, and left with my name and number beautifully inscribed on the bag. I carried it with me for over 40 years until it finally fell apart.

I hope that gentle, somber young man has survived to see Barack Obama take his oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible.

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