Forty years ago today, shots rang out in Memphis, killing the Reverend Martin Luther King. I was in Hawaii that day, on R&R from Vietnam. I returned to my unit in Bearcat, the 9th Infantry Division basecamp 25 miles east of Saigon after the riots had spread across America. Things were not much more wonderful there. Tensions between blacks and whites were already high. So when this cracker doing KP said to the black cook, “Well at least I got somewhere to go back home to,” the cook knocked aside the blistering hot stovepipe of an immersion heater with a bare arm and said, “Where’s my gun; I’m gonna kill this mutherfucker!” Fortunately for the guy on KP, our weapons were kept locked up in bunker. Yes, in a war zone our weapons were kept locked up. The brass correctly concluded we posed more danger to each other than the VC did to us. Race relations have improved in America since then. Perhaps we are not yet where we should be, but there can be little doubt how much has changed when we have a black man not only running for president but having a good chance of being elected.
I wasn’t a Buddhist then, but I wasn’t a racist either. While only a eight or nine, my mother cried at reading a newspaper article. I asked her what was wrong. “They banged his head on the curb until he was dead, just because he was Chinese.” He was a cook at the Bandbox, a hamburger joint in Camden, a mile or so from our house in North Minneapolis. She went on to tell me about the KKK and their terrible treatment of blacks. So I found it all the more startling when my fiancee’s father took strong exception our planned marriage 11 years later. She was black, I was white. But we overcame his objections through the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, praying for his happiness. On this anniversary of violence, it is my hope that everyone will find it in their heart to forgive and embrace those who they may have reason to hate. That is the best way to honor the memory of Martin Luther King and the way to advance our own humanity.