Celebrating MLK: Camp Hovey soldier sees civil rights progress since Vietnam
January 19, 2005
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — When Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned for civil rights in the 1960s, Ledell Bowman was serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
The 56-year-old black Camp Hovey-based education specialist spent part of last weekend, the anniversary of King’s birthday, reflecting on how far the United States and the U.S. military have come since then.
In Vietnam, black and white soldiers lived separate lives, recalled Bowman, who was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart during the conflict.
“In Vietnam it was apparent that there was a problem because you had polarization. Blacks hung with blacks and whites hung with whites. There were all-black clubs and all-white clubs,” he said.
King inspired the young soldier, he said: “He was a symbol of hope that change in America was possible. He gave the people a vision.”
During more than two and a half decades in the military, Bowman said, he saw a lot of change in how soldiers of different races treat each other and how the Army treats black soldiers.
Today they have more promotion potential than during his military service, he said. “The percentage of black officers achieving high rank is still low, but we have come a long way.”
The Army in South Korea has achieved King’s dream of racial harmony, Bowman contended: “I don’t see the divisiveness of race. I don’t experience it and I don’t feel it.”
However, even though the Army tolerates no forced segregation, a glance at the congregation at the Sunday afternoon service in Camp Red Cloud’s chapel suggested the races still choose to do some things separately. Only a few white faces were visible among about 60 black worshipers.
Maj. Michael White, 36, of Oakland, Calif., who works with the 2nd Infantry Division’s Fire Support Element, said most white churchgoers attend the morning service at the chapel.
White said he went to the early service when he arrived in South Korea but decided the afternoon service was the one for him and his family. Sunday’s afternoon service included loud, rhythmical gospel music performed by a band and choir, a sermon by Bowman as guest preacher, hand clapping and dancing.
White said the morning service was more reserved.
“The spirit of God is the same in both. We [blacks] tend to manifest the spirit of God differently than other cultures,” he said.
The major said King’s birthday weekend also was a time for him to reflect on what King stood for, “particularly the things in our country he viewed as being worth fighting for. As a preacher he was against evil and segregation was one of the many manifestations of that.”
White said although black and white worshippers are free to choose which Camp Red Cloud service they attend, “there should be a conscious effort where the services can get together and celebrate their common belief.”
Master Sgt. Odies Davis, 44, of Fayetteville, N.C., with 2nd ID’s Headquarters Company, said the Martin Luther King long weekend celebrated the success of King’s dream.
“We have to reflect that we may not be where we are today had it not been for some of his teachings,” he said.
Another black 2nd ID soldier, Spc. Anthony Sutton, 32, of Pasadena, Calif., who serves with the 473rd Quartermaster Company, said he learned much about King from his studies at school.
“He was more of a quiet man. He and [militant black activist] Malcolm X wanted the same thing but they did it in different ways,” Sutton said.
And, Sutton said, more of King’s work remains to be done. “It can only come through the church,” he said, “and through the changing of people’s hearts and minds.”