Duluth parade politics cause kerfuffle among vet groups
DULUTH — For more than 50 years, West Duluth has played host to a Memorial Day parade. This year’s version will feature a host of military service organizations, prep marching bands, scouts, dancing troupes and more.
What it won’t feature is a float from the local Veterans for Peace chapter.
“We’ve determined they be banned forever,” said Brenda Haase, treasurer of the Northland Veteran Services Committee, the organization that operates the parade. “I guess it comes down to we don’t want politics … or protesting politics; we just want to honor our deceased comrades and pay tribute to them.”
The NVSC’s board voted Tuesday to disallow Veterans for Peace Chapter 80’s involvement, citing a breach of etiquette at last year’s parade as the impetus for its decision. The Veterans for Peace deny anything out of the ordinary occurred last year, saying they are puzzled and believe their rights are being trampled.
“I was surprised … and somewhat saddened,” said Philip Anderson, president of the local VFP, who lives in Maple. “I firmly believe they have violated our First Amendment rights by excluding us.
“This is a public event. Pretty much no one ever is denied from a parade.”
Not so, says the NVSC, which has a history of not allowing campaigning politicians.
“We’ve had problems with that in the past,” NVSC board member John Marshall said. “All the Veterans for Peace have is a political agenda. It shouldn’t be about that.”
The VFP countered by saying the NVSC is parsing their politics, and simply not allowing a point of view with which it disagrees.
“Everything in our society is politicized,” Anderson said. “Everything is done through politics, whether a child goes off to war, has a decent school. … They’ve got a political agenda, too, and theirs is promoting war.”
The flap between the groups started after last year’s parade, according to NVSC members. They maintain the VFP didn’t pay an entry fee into the parade in advance and, instead, cut into the parade line on Memorial Day.
“They went in after the Military Order of the Purple Heart float,” Marshall said. “These are combat-wounded veterans. A lot of people were (upset) and thought it was disrespectful. They’ve got a pamphlet, and it was politically motivated.”
Haase called the VFP’s participation “an intrusion” and said it was specifically disrespectful to the military units that came in behind the VFP.
“It was a mass of people handing out literature and getting in people’s faces,” Haase said. “It was quite disruptive.”
Anderson’s version of the event differs wildly, saying there was no disruption at all and that his group had registered for the parade in advance.
“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “We got in line where they put us.”
Marshall resents that the VFP believes it has the market cornered on peace.
“I’m a combat-wounded infantryman,” Marshall said. “I’m a vet who wishes for peace, who prays for peace. It’s just not a reality.”
He said he considers the VFP a radical group that castigates other military groups as “war-mongers.”
Anderson, in discussing the costs of war, said there is a lot of mythology about the military and that its hero making only serves to present a distorted view of the military. A large percentage of soldiers never serve in combat, he said.
“These people are not heroes,” he said. “Just like any public employee — a teacher, a firefighter. They went to a job and came back from a job. They served time and got paid. What they did was valuable, but it’s not necessarily the best thing for our country to take a hero-out-of-veterans approach to things.
“It’s not truthful and not necessary.”
The players in the parade kerfuffle all served the country militarily. Anderson’s group has chapters nationwide, but locally it’s rather small, maybe 25 card-carrying members. He said the group has more in common with other veterans groups than it doesn’t.
“We would be happy to talk and we’d find more common ground than what they think,” he said.
That doesn’t appear likely anytime soon.
“We’ve notified the West Duluth police station that if they are there we do not want them as part of the parade,” Haase said.
The VFP met Wednesday and decided it won’t interfere with the parade, but will host an event of its own at 3 p.m. Monday at Lake Place Plaza. The group also will draw up a letter to the NVSC in an attempt, Anderson said, to “build bridges.”