SAN JOSE, November 11, 2013 — President Obama on October 20, 2009 presented a Presidential Unit Citation to honor the heroism of U.S. Army Alpha Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry that performed exceptionally under fire to aid and rescue another American infantry company in Vietnam.
CBS reporter, Mark Knoller characterized Obama’s closing remarks as a ‘public scolding’ from President Obama, who reflected on the fact that Vietnam veterans were often “shunned and neglected, even demonized” when they came home from the war and called it “one of the saddest episodes in American history” and a “national disgrace” the way Vietnam veterans were treated.
The president made quite an emphatic statement that day, “On days such as this… we resolve to never let it happen again.”
In addition, he was quoted as saying that, “America is forever grateful…” and that such gratitude “always includes showing our troops the respect and dignity they deserve, whether one agrees with the mission or not.” As he addressed some of the former members of Alpha Troop, Obama said “our responsibility as citizens and as a nation (is) to always remain worthy of your service.” It must have been quite a moving ceremony and the words uttered by the president are very true indeed.
But is it he now who must be publically scolded for his treatment of America’s veterans?
The recent debacle in October of this year occurred as the Administration’s petty closing of the national memorials and monuments seemed to deliver the exact opposite message as many WWII veterans had to overcome serious obstacles to obtain access to the memorial built in their honor. While damage control at the White House managed to quell much of the gaffe, there were several hiccups which left quite a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Though Media Matters and other news outlets tried their best to cover for the public relations mess, a pathetic and petty closure of the nation’s memorials and monuments delivered a much louder message.
Controversy and conflict reigned in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country as the Obama Administration sought to make a political statement about the budget crisis and the federal shutdown by spending more money to make sure barricades would be erected to block normally easy-access public monuments. The people, and especially a number of elderly WWII veterans, were the ones inconvenienced and made to suffer.
The irony is that most of the veteran’s memorials are open-air structures that are accessible by the public all hours of the day and night – unless of course the National Park Service has been instructed to go out of their way in erecting barriers to keep people away from the ‘public’ areas.
The bantering back and forth over who closed what, and to whom, and when it was supposed to happen, or not happen, was certainly as pathetic as the orders to close the designated national areas. The first day of the government shutdown was Tuesday, October 1st and the Administration had already prepared the National Park Service and they seemed to be more than ready to comply with the closures. In a memo, reportedly from October 1st, from the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, specific closure procedures related how the shutdown would be implemented and how it would affect national monuments and parks across the country.
It was this memo that the Administration referred to defend why an Immigration Rally on the Mall was permitted access on October 8th. Apparently this memo made it clear that any First Amendment activities that had been planned previously were to be exempted from the rules in 36 C.F.R. 1.5. The pertinent section of the memo stated:
“This closure determination and notice does not apply to First Amendment activities in the National Mall and Memorial Parks and areas administered by the NPS Liaison to the White House in Washington, D.C., and Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Persons may continue to conduct First Amendment activities in these units in accordance with existing regulations.” [National Park Service, 10/1/2013]
Later, after 125 WWII veterans from Mississippi and Iowa had initially been denied access to the WWII Memorial, the NPS and the White House by default caught in a public relations mess, reported through the Associated Press that veterans and veteran’s groups intending to visit the closed memorials would be granted access under First Amendment rights.
The groups of veterans caught in the middle were participants in the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit that brings World War II veterans to Washington on regularly planned visits. On October 2nd, NPS spokeswoman, Carol Johnson, said the veterans were being granted access to conduct First Amendment activities at the memorial as the park service had already made provisions to allow veterans groups into the memorial during the government shutdown.
On the other hand, evidence reported in The Daily Caller on October 1 indicated that the White House and the Department of the Interior rejected a request from Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo’s office to have World War II veterans visit the World War II memorial without any restrictions.
Steven Palazzo stated that “We got the heads up that they will be barricaded and specifically asked for an exception for these heroes; we were denied and told, ‘It’s a government shutdown, what do you expect?’ when we contacted the liaison for the White House.” Reportedly, Palazzo’s request had been rejected by the heads of the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Capitol Police.
The incident clearly upset Palazzo. “At first I thought it was a huge bureaucratic oversight,” Palazzo was quoted in the report from The Daily Caller, “but having talked with the officials I can’t help but think this was politically motivated.” In a further statement, Palazzo confirmed, “It actually requires more effort and expense to shut out these veterans from their Memorial than it would to simply let them through. My office has been in touch with NPS officials and the Administration to try to resolve this issue.”
In addition, incredibly, after all of the controversy in the first few days of the shutdown, Vietnam Veterans were reportedly kicked out of the Vietnam National Memorial on October 5. According to NBC’s affiliate in Washington, D.C., William Jacobson, police ordered tourists and Vietnam war veterans who were visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to leave the memorial at one point on Friday. NBC’s Mark Seagraves reported that a park ranger told veterans that the wall was closed. “Later another group of vets showed up and moved the barricades. At that point, the memorial filled with vets and tourists. That’s when police came and moved everyone out.”
U.S. Park Police arrived at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and asked everyone to leave and replaced the barricade that the veterans had moved before they walked down to the wall to pay their respects. No clarification seemed to be made at that point between veterans and the tourists who followed the vets through the barricade. A North Carolina resident Reid Mendenhall who was part of the flood of tourists who followed the vets said, “The consensus among the group of Vietnam veterans was we’re going to go anyway. We’ll go through the barricade.” But, they all got busted anyway, despite their “First Amendment activities.”
Of course it is quite possible that the authorities had a hard time distinguishing between those veterans who were exercising their First Amendment rights and those that were not. Nevertheless, it should be understood by all Americans that any public gathering of any American citizens should be viewed and accepted as people freely exercising their First Amendment rights, since the freedom to assemble peaceably is still a First Amendment right of all Americans. Who would be more deserving the honor of exercising those rights at a memorial dedicated to their sacrifice than the veteran?
Is the Obama Administration worthy of the veterans’ service? This is best answered by one of America’s finest representatives.
This October, a regional NBC News affiliate caught up with 88-year-old Merwin Cowles who fought as a U.S. Marine during World War II. He had been privileged to see the World War II Memorial in May of this year - pre shenanigans. He may have expressed in words what many other vets have felt: “It’s an experience that I don’t really know how to explain. The tears roll down and your heart will start pumping a little bit to think ‘ok I’ve got buddies here. I don’t see ‘em, but I feel ‘em,’” explained Cowles.
Regarding the Administration’s closure of the memorials, Cowles said, “I think it’s the most dishonorable thing they ever could do for us. Without us veterans working like that there would be no America.”
Enough said. God Bless America’s Veterans.
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