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Chen Wang, Deseret News
Marshall Thompson, right, receives the 2009 Gandhi Peace Award from Allan Smart of the Gandhi Alliance for Peace.

Mahatma Gandhi marched 240 miles to protest British salt taxes in 1930, advocating nonviolent protest to make a difference.

Nearly 80 years later in 2006, just months after returning from a year in Iraq and on Gandhi's birthday on Oct. 2, Marshall Thompson marched for the same concept of nonviolence. His time spent as a military journalist overseas made him realize that better solutions to conflict exist other than war and violence.

That idea and Thompson's 500-mile march across Utah to advocate nonviolence accorded him the annual Gandhi Peace Award Sunday.

Board members of the Gandhi Alliance for Peace, a nonprofit organization intent on spreading Gandhi's nonviolent message, recognized Thompson, 31, as the quintessential recipient of the award for his continuous efforts to spread that same message.

"I'm under no illusions. I really do not deserve this award," Marshall said to a group of intent listeners and proud family members at Jordan Park on Sunday. "When I think of all the activists and the man whose name is on this award, I will accept it as a public commitment of how I will live the rest of my life."

On his last Sunday before leaving Iraq, Thompson listened to a soldier there who told him to make sure he didn't forget about them — the soldiers who served day in and day out.

"I knew I would have to do something," Thompson said.

And he did. Three years ago, Thompson, a U.S. Army reservist who interviewed thousands of soldiers at every rank in Iraq, set off south on a 27-day march through Utah.

Like Gandhi, he was sometimes met with scorn and often met with people interested in his thoughts against physical and violent conflict.

The 27-day march that took Thompson down U.S. 89 through Logan, Spanish Fork and Manti, then past Zion National Park, is chronicled in a 90-minute award-winning documentary film, "A Soldier's Peace," that he co-edited with his wife, Kristen.

"We wanted an individual who reflects the ideals of Gandhi," said Allan Smart, vice president of the Gandhi Alliance for Peace. "The message that violence doesn't work very well is something that people need to be reminded of, especially during times of war."

And it's a message Thompson said he can't forget.

As the rain poured down around the crowd of people huddled under the park's canopy, Thompson shared a memory of his time in Iraq when he was sure he would die. As mortar fire rained down outside, Thompson thought back on the family and friends he would leave behind, and realized there were things left unsaid.

"I just sat on my bed. I didn't move, I didn't run, I just sat there," he said. "I contemplated my death. I had the disturbing thought that if I died there, I would not be able to share my thoughts on the war in Iraq."

To this day, Thompson continues to rally as a peaceful protester, and says he plans to finish his graduate degree in communications, which he is currently working on, and perhaps attend law school to increase his knowledge just as Gandhi did years before.

"It's always important to do what you believe in, but it's best if you can hold it up with knowledge and experience."

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com