They still hate America and they still hate the military. It is impossible to support the troops and be against the mission.
Veteran gets rude welcome on Bainbridge
Friday, July 9, 2004
By ROBERT L. JAMIESON JR.
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST
Think about the Seattle area -- Bainbridge Island to be exact -- and you think scenic views and liberal-minded tolerance.
At least the killer views are still there.
The bucolic island's deep reputation for civility got a gut check this week during the annual Grand Old Fourth of July celebration.
That's when Jason Gilson, a 23-year-old military veteran who served in Iraq, marched in the local event. He wore his medals with pride and carried a sign that said "Veterans for Bush."
Walking the parade route with his mom, younger siblings and politically conservative friends, Jason heard words from the crowd that felt like a thousand daggers to the heart.
To understand why the reaction of strangers hurt so much, you must read what the young man had written in a letter from Iraq before he was disabled in an ambush:
"I really miss being in the states. Some of the American public have no idea how much freedom costs and who the people are that pay that awful price. I think sometimes people just see us as nameless and faceless and not really as humans. ... A good portion of us are actually scared that when we come home, for those of us who make it back, that there will be protesters waiting for us and that is scary."
On the Fourth, Jason faced his worst fear.
It was such a public humiliation -- home front insult after battlefield injury.
It really shouldn't have happened for two principal reasons.
Reason No. 1? History.
The past informs us that the men and women who fight our wars are not just following orders.
They are risking life and limb.
When they return from the battlefield they should be embraced regardless of the public popularity about the conflict, regardless of the politics.
Have we so quickly forgotten the painful lessons of Vietnam?
Frederick Scheffler, whose daughter and son-in-law marched with Jason on Sunday, hasn't.
Scheffler -- an Army veteran of two tours in Southeast Asia -- was shot in the leg during that long-ago conflict.
He came home with a cane, only to discover the American public was either indifferent to his sacrifice or downright hostile.
"I didn't think in this day and age combat veterans would be treated in this manner," Scheffler, 60, tells me, reflecting on Jason. "I saw it happen to veterans in Vietnam. I'm not going to let it happen today, not to these kids."
Reason No. 2? The rules.
The Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, which put on the community celebration, permits freedom of expression at the event but asks that parade announcers not act in a manner that is partisan or prejudicial.
Jason's mother, Tamar, says a female parade announcer locked eyes on her son who was walking behind a pro-Republican group called Women in Red, White and Blue. The group supports President Bush and the troops in the fight against terrorism.
According to Tamar, the female announcer sarcastically asked Jason: "And what exactly are you a veteran of?"
The perceived mocking, the mother adds, set off some people in the crowd, loosing a flood of negative comments, "like a wave... a mob-style degrading."
Kevin Dwyer, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke with the announcer after the allegations reached him this week.
He says the woman denies using sarcasm; she just wanted to know which war Jason was a veteran of so that she could "honor him" in public.
"It wasn't her intention to incite anything -- that's what she told me," Dwyer said. "But if she acted out of school, that's not what we're about."
Dwyer added: "I believe (Jason's) mom when she said her son was called 'a murderer.' But I'm sure it wasn't so much directed at the kid as it was the president. A soldier with a sign represents that."
The female announcer told Dwyer that some in the Bush-Cheney contingent in the parade seemed "militant."
And so, battle lines are drawn.
From the outside looking in, the fuel for this conflict seems obvious.
The left-leaning island hosted a group of people who support Bush's controversial war. (On the same parade route, people bearing pro-Kerry signs were cheered and applauded for, among other things, tooling around in an environmentally responsible car.)
Against such a roiling backdrop, an unfortunate tone of voice or the wording on a sign can spark, well, something -- something unconscionable it appears.
But less obvious factors are undoubtedly at work here, too.
The female announcer at the parade had a father who fought for America in a previous U.S. conflict. He never made it back home.
Jason's mother -- unbeknownst to many observers along the parade route -- is a tireless activist behind the pro-troops movement in the Puget Sound region.
Such a combo on a day of red, white and blue can only lead to fireworks -- snap, crackle and popping off during what locals call the "best small-town parade in America."
P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or [email protected]