On June 15 at 12:30 p.m. the United Veterans Honor Guard arrived at Veterans Park in Kalispell (formerly Depot Park) to conduct a veteran memorial ceremony for a recently deceased veteran. To their surprise and dismay there were about 25 to 30 protestors in front of the memorial waving signs and shouting to get the attention of passing motorists.
After watching this demonstration for a few minutes, I approached the group of protestors and explained we were preparing to conduct a memorial ceremony and could not do so with this distraction. I was informed that they had a city permit to demonstrate until 1 p.m. and would leave at that time. To their credit, when they heard about the ceremony they began to melt away.
When my co-founder Chuck Olson appeared before the City Council with a request that the city grant us the land in the park to erect a memorial in Veterans Park with the express purpose of honoring those county service members who were killed in action and those veterans living and deceased who served this great nation, we never envisioned that “protests” and other political events would be allowed to demonstrate directly in front of it. We believe that this memorial is “hallowed ground.”
While it is true that veterans fought and died to ensure all Americans had the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly it certainly is not morally right or decent to conduct partisan political protests or events in close proximity to their memorials. I would think that most sensible Americans would be outraged if protests were allowed in front of the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” or the World War ll, Vietnam and other war memorials.
Our county memorial lists by name each and every individual resident who gave his live in battle from Fred Wheaton in the Spanish-American War to Nicolas Cook in Afghanistan. We and all local veterans believe that this is truly “sacred ground” and it should not be “politicalized” in any way. In addition, hundreds of local residents have purchased bricks with inscriptions honoring the service of family members and who believe that this is a “special place” to visit and pay their respect.
In the name of decency and propriety, we respectfully ask that the city no longer issue permits for protests or other partisan political events within 200 feet of the front of the memorial or entrance to any cemetery. We also appeal in the name of decency to all political or social groups not to hold protests or rallies in areas that would dishonor or tarnish the dignity and serenity of the deceased or their memorial.
Jack Heller, of Kalispell, is member of the United Veterans Honor Guard. He, along with Chuck Olson, led fundraising efforts to establish the memorial at Veterans Park in Kalispell.