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Veterans won’t let veterans march

Denied
By SARA DONNELLY  |  October 4, 2006

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STREET FIGHT: Anti-war message upsets Portland veterans.

Maine Veterans for Peace may not be allowed to march in Portland’s Veterans Day parade this year, because parade organizers and participants object to the group’s anti-war politics.

The parade, which is put on by the Harold T. Andrews Post of the American Legion, has been an annual Portland event since 1919.

This year, because of objections from several local veterans groups over the anti-war vets’ sponsorship of a publicly displayed American flag, the legion has barred MVFP from participating. In July, as part of Portland’s downtown “Adopt a Flag” program, MVFP purchased a Congress Street flag to memorialize an Iraqi infant killed by a US bombing raid in 2004.

Maine Veterans for Peace was notified of their parade ousting on September 22, in a letter saying “our other veteran units have said that they will not participate if your organization is in the lineup,” which would effectively “kill the parade.” This letter was read over the phone to the Phoenix by a member of the peace group.

The letter, from parade chairman Chester Morris and Andrews Post chairman Bob Wright, says the parade is “an invitation only event” put on at the legion’s expense. (The city does provide about $1500 in security, road barriers, and clean-up, according to city spokesman Peter DeWitt.)

Doug Rawlings, president of the MVFP, believes the group is being excluded because of its anti-war politics: “I think they object to our political stance although we’ve been in the parade for the last 15 years and we haven’t had a political statement [in the parade] then and we won’t now.”

Rawlings says MVFP marches silently without its anti-war posters on Veterans Day. The 50- to 70-person group, which walks in concert with the peace groups Women in Black and Military Families Speak Out, does march with a banner tallying the cost of the war in Iraq and a float covered with crosses for the soldiers killed in Iraq.

“That’s who we are and that’s the banner we walk under,” he says. “We’re not there to protest other veterans’ place in the parade at all; we just think that, as veterans, we should have a place in that parade.”

A man who picked up the phone at the Andrews Post, who declined to identify himself, said the Portland legion has no comment. Calls to Morris and Wright were not immediately returned. But an e-mail correspondence forwarded to the Phoenix between Morris and a Veteran for Peace suggests the peace-vets were ousted because of a move they made this summer.

In July, Maine Veterans for Peace bought a flag in memory of an Iraqi infant, under the Adopt-a-Flag program jointly run by the city government, the Portland Downtown District merchants’ group, and the Andrews Post. The peace group was the only group to purchase a flag in honor of an Iraqi; most of the rest were sponsored in honor of fallen American soldiers, according to the list at www.portlandmaine.com.

On one night in mid-September, a series of e-mail messages flew back and forth among MVFP board member Jack Bussell, Morris, and Thomas Lussier, a member of the Deering Memorial Legion Post and the Portland post adjutant of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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