The Truth, Mainly - 07/02/2007

Wear old uniforms with care
by Leon Satterfield

Okay, I plead guilty.

Don't yawn as if you don't care. Bear with me. Confession is good for the soul and mine needs some help, so hear me out.

I have misused my old military uniform. Yes I have.

When I got out of active duty in the U.S. Army back in June of 1956, I kept my old uniforms and—here it comes—continued to wear them at inappropriate times.

Not my dress uniform. I donated it to a theatre costume department on a campus where I often hung out.

But my fatigues I kept. And I continued to wear them for about four more decades. The tops still had my name tag above the shirt pocket, still had my Specialist Third Class rank on one shoulder, still had the Ninth Infantry Division insignia on the other shoulder.

I didn't wear my fatigues every day. I only—in a moral error I just recently became aware of—wore them when I was doing very messy jobs. I spattered yellow paint on them when I helped paint our house. I got dog poop on them when I was cleaning up the yard. And so forth.

And the fatigues lasted and lasted and lasted.

Last week I discovered that wearing old military uniforms for non-patriotic purposes has become a touchy subject in the Bush II administration, and I've been reminded of it every night just before I fall asleep when a neon light flashes on in my head saying "Thou shalt not wear any part of thy military uniform at any time thou art disagreeing with the way the president is using our military."

I would have been in big trouble had my wife not thrown away my fatigues at about the same time Bush II got elected, sort of, to his first term. She thereby saved me from a world of trouble, i.e. the FBI seeing me clad in my old fatigues while disagreeing with our Commander-in-Chief.

And where, you might ask, did I get such an idea? Let me tell you. I got it from (1) an A.P. story dated June 14, and (2) a Chicago Tribune piece dated June 24.

The A.P. story is about an Iraq war veteran, Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh who was about to get an honorable discharge when the Washington Post published a photo of him wearing his uniform in an anti-war demonstration in Washington.

When an officer told Kokesh he may have violated a rule prohibiting the wearing of military uniforms as such protests, Kokesh "responded to the superior with an obscenity" and the Marines downgraded him to an "other than honorable" discharge.

The Chicago Tribune story ten days later is about several Iraq War veterans who have gone public with their opposition to the war.

One of them is Liam Madden, a 22-year-old former Marine sergeant accused of "wearing part of his uniform during an anti-war rally." The Marine Corps recommended that he get "other than honorable discharge" for being "disloyal."

And, the Tribune continued, "at least two other combat veterans who have returned from tours in Iraq and become well-known anti-war advocates have seen the military recommend them for less- than-honorable discharges. One of them is a young man 80 percent disabled from two tours who was threatened with losing his veteran's disability benefits if he continued to protest in uniform."

The national VFW commander, Gary Kurpius, was quoted as saying he might disagree with those veterans who protest against the war "but I will always defend their right to say it…. Trying to punish fellow Americans for exercising the same democratic rights we're trying to instill in Iraq is not what we're about."

If, of course, the protesters don't wear any part of their uniforms while they exercise those rights.

Thatís an "if" that at least one of the protesting veterans accepted in an inventive way.

Here's the Tribune's account:

"Of the three Marines caught protesting in uniform, the case of former Cpl. Cloy Richards has garnered the least public attention—but the most within military circles. The 23-year-old from Missouri has been deemed 80 percent disabled from two tours in Iraq; he agreed this month before a military discharge review board that he would no longer protest in uniform to keep his honorable discharge and his veteranís benefits…."

And get this:

"But that hasn't silenced Richards' protest. He now attends anti-war demonstrations in civilian clothes; his mother attends as well, wearing his old uniform for him."

And what will the Bush administration say about that?

 

Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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