WASHINGTON — A proposal by Rep. Lee Terry has the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion at odds over how best to display their patriotism.
The Omaha Republican introduced legislation on the anniversary of D-Day that would allow military salutes during the Pledge of Allegiance by veterans and service members who are out of uniform, broadening the instances in which that is acceptable.
“Today is an appropriate day to introduce this legislation and celebrate our vets who take deep pride in being able to honor with a military-style salute the flag they selflessly pledged to defend,” Terry said at the time.
But critics say loosening the rules could put the country on a slippery slope to every Tom, Dick and Harry in a smelly T-shirt thinking it's OK to salute the flag, even if they never served in the military.
“To see someone who is holding his bag of popcorn and wearing just a baseball hat of his favorite team and then saluting the flag could cause some confusion, maybe make them think that's an appropriate way for a civilian to respond to either the pledge or the national anthem,” said Colin Short, assistant director of the Americanism Division at the American Legion's national headquarters.
But retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ron Dupell sees it differently. After serving his country, he believes he should be able to salute the flag whenever he pleases.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I had screaming nightmares for five years,” said Dupell, 70, a Papillion resident and quartermaster for Omaha-based VFW Post 2503. “And to tell me what I can or cannot do when I've traveled to 27 countries on behalf of the United States of America … to do anything to limit the patriotic expression by a veteran, it just does not make sense.”
It was Post 2503 that first brought the issue to Terry's attention. One of the local veterans who pushed for the change has since died, and Terry said he feels an obligation to follow through in that veteran's memory.
Terry's proposal would change Title 4 of the U.S. Code, which spells out how military service members, veterans and the public should honor the American flag.
The Legion not only opposes this proposal but would also like to see lawmakers repeal similar changes to the code made in recent years.
Several years ago, Congress moved to allow veterans and military personnel out of uniform to salute during the raising, lowering and passing of the flag. Congress later did the same for the playing of the national anthem.
Dupell notes that he also is a member of the local American Legion and that at Legion meetings when everyone else puts their hands over their hearts, he salutes.
“I go against the grain,” he said.
Dupell said he finds the Legion's position curious, but according to Short it's all about preserving that special right of a veteran to render that military salute. It would be diluted if it spread to every member of the public, he said.
“Even though the intent is good, it diminishes the veteran being able to salute the flag,” Short said. “Because now random people might be saluting the flag, because who knows if somebody's a veteran or not?”
Terry's proposal was folded into the defense authorization bill approved Friday by the House. It remains unclear whether it will win approval from the Senate.
Short stressed that while the Legion is opposed to Terry's legislation, it is lobbying Capitol Hill much harder on other issues, such as getting a ban on flag burning.
“This isn't something we're up in arms about,” Short said of the saluting proposal.
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