Earlier this year I had the pleasure of being a keynote speaker at a four-day veterans event in Illinois at which The Moving Wall, a miniature version of the Vietnam War Memorial, was the focal point.
The Moving Wall makes its way around the country, giving veterans who may not be able to visit the original in Washington an opportunity to see it in miniature close to home. The Wall stays in an area for several days and it usually is the central point for other veteran-related activities.
The Moving Wall came to East Hartford Connecticut this weekend, and along with other ceremonies and units the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Team also was featured.
It is great to see these units in our area, and many military units have regular touring schedules and people to help with smoothing out the arrangements. A call to their headquarters will get the ball rolling. In Illinois, the visit of The Moving Wall was arranged by the local American Legion post, and as is usually the case in such events, the work was done by a handful of dedicated members.
What I liked best about the ceremonies I attended in Illinois was the absence of politics. Dignitaries such as mayors, Senators and Representatives were there, and they gave speeches, but they didn't try to overshadow the meaning of the event, nor make the wall a centerpiece of their campaigns.
Unfortunately that was not the case in East Hartford, Connecticut. The appearance of The Moving Wall was billed as and run as the brainchild of Congressman John Larson, who brags of being the #5 Democrat in the House of Representatives.
Media silence notwithstanding, Larson is in a very tight race with Republican challenger Joseph Visconti, and in fact, came in a distant second in an unofficial poll run by the Hartford Courant last week. The poll was attached to the only statewide story the Courant has run on the race.
Visconti stayed neck and neck with Larson all day, but pulled away in late voting and ended up the following morning defeating Larson by 51 to 41 percent. Unofficial though that poll may have been, the truth is that if Connecticut's 1st Congressional District is a lock for Larson, as the Hartford media claims, he should have outpolled Visconti by 90-10.
But the refusal of media outlets to cover Visconti's campaign is not the biggest issue involving the appearance of The Moving Wall.
A much bigger issue is Larson's attempt to hijack the event for his lagging campaign. His refusal to serve in Vietnam, and his claims to be a strong supporter of the troops when he has been working against them make any attempt by Larson to appear as pro-troop sad, hypocritical and completely transparent.
Larson voted to cut off funding in Iraq, opposed the Surge, and stood mutely by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's side in Iraq earlier this year when she insulted our forces by saying they didn't win in Iraq, "the Iranians let them." If ever there was a time and place for a real troop supporter to stand up and be counted, that was it, but Larson said nothing.
That didn't stop him from taking inordinate amounts of credit for bringing The Moving Wall to Connecticut though.
The appearance of Marine musical and drill units is a definite draw for area military enthusiasts. So to give you a non-biased review of Friday night's ceremonies, here are the words of one of my brother Marines, who does not live in the First Congressional District and has no reason to support either candidate:
"It was too damn political. Every other word was Thanks to Congressman Larson. They even had a Barack Obama adviser. I overlooked it because I wanted to absorb and enjoy the moment," my friend said, "but it definitely was about Larson. I didn't appreciate it one bit."
Obviously visit by The Moving Wall, which is an emotional, as well as historic event, was definitely turned into a political event for a Congressman who is good with lip service, but by actions shows he doesn't really respect the troops.
But wait, it gets worse. In last week's East Hartford Gazette, in an article on the event, Larson was portrayed as a Vietnam vet himself!
From the Gazette: "Credited as being the idea of Congressman John Larson, the project has been in the works for a year. ... Motivated by strong personal feelings, Larson says he always talked about doing something like this. ... Given the upcoming 25th anniversary of The Wall, Larson decided it was time to knuckle down and do something.
He contacted friends and fellow Vietnam veterans Paul F. Barry and Craig Jordan. The logistics of it became their labor of love."
What? Larson's friends and fellow Vietnam veterans? The 25th Anniversary?
Perhaps someone should clue our hapless incumbent Congressman in on a little piece of federal legislation called the Stolen Valor Act. It carries penalties including jail time for falsely portraying oneself as a veteran and wearing medals and decorations when one is not a veteran.
You'd think an incumbent Congressman would know that, especially one who has been in Congress for 10 years and brags about being the #5 Democrat in the House of Representatives. Larson is a real mover and shaker who is responsible for much of the Legislation passed in the last two years, but he doesn't know he shouldn't allow himself to be portrayed as a veteran when he is not?
Not only does the Gazette article falsely credit Larson with being a Vietnam Veteran, it also gets the year of the dedication of the wall wrong. I attended the 25th Anniversary ceremonies at the national Vietnam War Memorial on Veteran's Day LAST YEAR!
The year 2008 is the 26th Anniversary of the dedication of The Wall. You can figure that out yourself by subtracting 1982, the year The Wall was dedicated in Washington, from 2008, which is this year. 2008 minus 1982 leaves 26, not 25. Good grief.
National media covered the ceremonies in D.C. last year, and a large contingent of Hartford area veterans, including members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Hartford chapter, marched in the parade. I was there, I saw old friends, we chatted, we reminisced! John Larson was nowhere to be seen, which was appropriate, but veterans from East Hartford were there.
It wasn't exactly a secret that the 25th anniversary was last year, not this year. How convenient that Larson gets involved in this project a year late, but right on time for his campaign.
Maybe someone on Larson's campaign staff should have asked him what year it is.
In a nutshell, Larson did the people who did the real work, and all of Connecticut's veterans, a major disservice by placing his campaign at the forefront of this effort. There still are many emotions surrounding The Wall from those of us who fought that war.
Those panels bear the names of 40 Marines who served in my unit and died in Vietnam. There are many others I knew who served in other units. I don't appreciate any politician at any level, especially one with an anti-military bias, using that wall and all it represents as a backdrop for a political campaign.
It goes beyond sacrilege to Vietnam Veterans, it is blasphemy! For that, Larson owes every one of us an apology.
As far as being referred to as a Vietnam veteran in the East Hartford Gazette, he and the paper owe us an explanation, a correction, and another apology.
Sunday, October 19, 2008