Millennium People: I Saw Martin Luther King Buried. and Man Walk on the Moon. I Witnessed the Vietnam War, and Helped Dig Babies' Graves in Ethiopia. I Shed Tears at Dunblane. but Nothing Moved Me More Than the Funeral of DIANA; BY JOHN SMITH, OUR MOST CELEBRATED `MAN OF THE PEOPLE' OF 20th CENTURY

Article excerpt

JOHN SMITH became the voice of the Sunday People during his 26 years on the paper. He was loved by readers and respected by his fellow journalists.

After starting on the Daily Mirror, John joined the Sunday People in 1973 and travelled the globe reporting on the major news stories of the day.

For the last 10 years of his career, John wrote our Man of The People column where he took up readers' problems and concerns and battled on their behalf.

Here, he recounts his memories of the most momentous years of the Millennium.

CONFRONTING the good, the bad and the ugly is a reporter's everyday job. So if my Millennium memories from the last four decades of the 20th Century burn brighter than most, it's because I was a privileged eyewitness to some of its most sensational, sad and stimulating events.

History was being made and, as a reporter for the Sunday People, I had a front row seat.

When they buried assassinated civil rights leader MARTIN LUTHER KING, I walked in the funeral cortege as a team of mules pulled his coffin through the sorrowing, Deep South streets of Atlanta, Georgia.

I tracked the mournful cross country journey of the train which brought BOBBY KENNEDY'S body back to Washington DC after he was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom.

In the early stages of America's journey into space I watched the rockets blast off from Cape Kennedy. And minutes after NEIL ARMSTRONG became the first man to walk on the moon, I shared the pride and the joy of the moment with his parents as they stood at the front door of their home in Wapakaneta, Ohio.

How well I remember the way disgraced Defence Minister JOHN PROFUMO stared at me, grim faced and silent, as he walked up the steps of his elegant London home following his confession to Parliament that he had lied about his affair with prostitute Christine Keeler.

Blinking back tears, I helped to dig tiny graves for skeletal babies and toddlers who had wasted away from hunger and disease during the devastating famine in ETHIOPIA.

In SOUTH VIETNAM I could only look on in silence at a village north of Saigon where weeping parents gently retrieved their children's shoes - the only recognisable remnants after Viet Cong mortars blew 12 six- year-olds to pieces in the school playground.

At first I thought the hills above the Scottish town of LOCKERBIE were dotted with grazing sheep. But the distant blobs turned out to be the white shrouded bodies of passengers hurled from the skies when Pan Am flight 103 was ripped apart by a terrorist bomb which claimed 270 lives.

The lollypop lady outside DUNBLANE Primary school in Scotland told me how the youngsters had laughed and waved as they crossed the road to the classrooms where 16 of them were massacred by a crazed gunman. She wept openly as, one by one, she softly spoke their names.

WITH depressing frequency I encountered bombs, bullets, bodies and blood - in South Vietnam, Aden, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Africa and Afghanistan.

In Buenos Aires I was jostled by hostile Argentinians who burned effigies of Margaret Thatcher in the city streets as the British task force sailed south to recapture the FALKLAND ISLANDS.

I was in at the birth of flower power and hippydom in the peace and love district of Haight Ashbury in SAN FRANCISCO in the 60s. Then I joined the hippy trail which stretched through Turkey, India, Nepal and Afghanistan.

It was in San Francisco, too, that I was one of the first British reporters to reveal the growing menace of what was then a new and mysterious disease - AIDS.

All down the years there were faces I will never forget. In New York, ELVIS PRESLEY shook me shyly by the hand and called me "Sir". MUHAMMAD ALI, still the greatest, welcomed me into his Chicago home and insisted on shadow boxing with me, demonstrating the famous Ali shuffle on the living room rug. …