Jan. 13, 2012
Naval Hospital Beaufort Hosts Tri-Command Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Ceremony
Sailors, Marines, and civilians from Naval Hospital Beaufort, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, and Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) Parris Island, gathered in the hospital’s auditorium Jan. 12, to celebrate the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and remember his dream.
“The life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of service, which is something we, as active duty members and the civilians who support us, can all understand,” said Captain Joan Queen, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Beaufort. “I think the best way to celebrate his life is to take time to reflect on what we, as individuals, are doing to serve our communities and make this world a better place.”
The celebration of King’s life included opening remarks by Capt. Queen, who is the first African-American commanding officer of the naval hospital, a dramatic reading of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech by Cmdr. Gerald Felder, chaplain for Marine Air Group 31, and performances by the Naval Hospital Beaufort Choir.
The guest speaker for the event was Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner, sergeant major for Fourth Recruit Training Battalion, MCRD Parris Island, who spoke about the importance of remembering what King was fighting for, equality for all Americans.
“This isn’t just an African-American holiday, this is an American holiday,” said Fortner.
As Fortner spoke about King’s life and achievements, she reminded the audience that even though our nation has come a long way since King’s death in 1968 the fight is not over. She shared a story about an African-American child who went swimming at a pool in Ohio just last year, and the next day a sign was posted by the pool saying, “whites only.”
Fortner told the audience that it is our generation’s duty to continue fighting to secure the freedoms that King and other civil rights leaders sacrificed so much to achieve. “We must act upon their struggle and make sure the future does not repeat the past.”
Given the history of the site on which Naval Hospital Beaufort stands, holding the ceremony at the hospital was fitting. During the Civil War, the site, which was known as Camp Saxton, was occupied by the Union Army from late 1861 through the end of the war. It was here that African-American slaves, abandoned by their former owners during the war, came to enlist in the army, forming the 1st and 2nd South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiments to be mustered into regular service in the United States Army.
Additionally, on Jan. 1, 1863, a celebration was held on Camp Saxton to mark the enactment of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves. A ceremony was held under the branches of large Live Oak, which still stands on hospital grounds and is now known as the Emancipation Oak.
Open since 1949, Naval Hospital Beaufort provides general medical, surgical, and emergency services to all active duty personnel, as well as retired military and family members residing in the Beaufort area, a total population of approximately 45,000 beneficiaries.