Veterans react to proposed parade

Retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley

Nelson Ritter, commander of Winchester American Legion Post 21, does not think President Donald Trump’s proposed military parade is a good idea. He said his  feelings do not speak for the entire post.

That was immediately clear upon discussing the interview for this article at the headquarters. Fellow post member Michael Miller disagreed and said he thinks the parade is a great idea to honor the military and boost troop morale.

Their split views on the military parade were echoed by veterans throughout the area.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, a Woodstock native, said leaders honoring the military and its contributions is always positive. This contrasts with times when he said the military was disrespected. The timing, however, “isn’t very good.” He noted troops remain engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan after a decade-plus. America has held parades after major victories, such as those in Japan and Europe during World War II. If the conflicts in the Middle East end, he thinks a parade would serve as good closure.

“But we’re a ways off from that,” Freakley said.

Dan Smith

Retired Marine veteran Danuel Smith of Woodstock agreed that there is nothing negative about honoring the military, but questioned the possible expenses involved. He would rather troops receive a raise.

“It’s just a silly idea to have a parade,” Smith said. “My initial thought was this is a crazy man’s thinking. ‘Gee let’s have a parade.’ It sounds like something out of the movies.” An independent, he voted in the presidential election for whom he considered the lesser of two evils in Hillary Clinton.

Freakley, who did not say for whom he voted, also questioned parade expenses. He pointed to education, health care, and infrastructure as areas that could use money instead. Ritter, who also did not disclose his vote, would rather see the money help disabled veterans.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bob Sites, a Strasburg American Legion Post 77 member, said parade costs are minuscule in the big scheme of wasteful spending in Washington D.C.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Sites thinks the parade is a great idea and does not “understand why anybody would have a problem.” He added “the only reason it would be happening is to honor the military and show the whole country who we care about.”

Warren County Supervisor and retired Army veteran Dan Murray agrees that the parade is a great idea. He thinks “we need to honor the veterans and honor the guys touring.” His grandson has been on multiple tours, and “these kids today don’t have it easy. They are going against enemies who don’t wear uniforms.” He voted for Trump and had “bumper stickers and yard signs.”

“The country was founded by the people for the people. We’ve got to unify, stop all this political garbage, stop fighting party against party,” Murray said.

Front Royal councilman and retired Marine veteran William Sealock is pro-parade if it focuses on veterans and service members rather than armaments. He voted for Trump and thinks a parade would counter the “take a knee group.”

Ann Denkler, a Shenandoah University 20th century American history professor did not vote for Trump,  but she said she is “not for or against the parade, but just trying to be an objective interpreter.” She is perplexed at Trump’s motivation, and said there is no standard for such an event in the country’s history.

Around the world, however, “countries and civilizations have been doing this forever, since they’ve had militaries,” she said. She noted similar displays in North Korea and France, and wondered if Trump just wants to copy them. She thinks the parade announcement was poorly timed due to increasing nationalism in delicate political, social, and cultural times. While on one hand the parade would be innocuous, she thinks it should be carefully considered and not used as a political tool.

Grand parades and marches were often a tool used by Adolf Hitler during the rise of Nazi Germany, she said.

“For Hitler, the display of power and military went hand in hand…they did so much of these military gatherings with songs and dancing. His idea was to create this new world order, and he was going to start with parades in the street because the military was critical to Nazism,” she said.

Ritter noted past displays of military power by countries such as China, Korea, and Russia.

“I just don’t think we need to follow in the footsteps of a lot of the other foreign countries,” he said.

Sites, who voted for Trump, wondered if those against the parade were  simply following party lines.

“Some people are just anti-Trump,” Sites said.

Smith disagreed, noting a Military Times poll in which 89 percent of participants were against the parade.

“Most active duty military vote Republican,” Smith said.