May 21, 2008, Washington, DC – A veterans group that opposes the war in Iraq has been blocked from marching in a Memorial Day parade in Washington after being told its plans, which once included a casket representing war dead, would be too political for the event.
Veterans for Peace was initially granted a spot in the Monday parade that is scheduled to travel down Constitution Avenue, past landmarks that include the Washington Monument and the White House.
But the American Veterans Center, a nonprofit that organizes the parade, has pulled that approval, saying it does not allow the expression of political viewpoints.
Anthony Teolis, treasurer of the Washington-area chapter of Veterans for Peace, said that as veterans, the group should be able to take part in the parade. He said it was being singled out because of its anti-war views.
“We are a veterans group like any other except we have the word ‘peace’ in our name,” Teolis said.
Jim Roberts, president of the Arlington, Va.-based American Veterans Center, said the group strives to keep political statements out of the parade. Last year, two groups that supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were turned down. The Veterans for Peace program initially was approved by a contractor handling parade planning, but it was revoked when the center saw its plans for the march.
“We don’t allow groups in the parade that are projecting an opinion. That goes for pro-mission as well as anti-war,” Roberts said.
The parade, now in its fifth year, includes marchers that span the military history of America, from Revolutionary War re-enactors to active-duty military units. Other marchers scheduled for this year include 20 high school bands, a military high school and actor Gary Sinise. Last year, roughly 250,000 people attended.
The Washington-area chapter of Veterans for Peace submitted an application outlining plans to include a “miniature hand drawn funeral casket with U.S. flag symbolizing fallen troops,” according to a copy of their proposal. A convertible carrying three World War II veterans also was planned.
Teolis said the group dropped the casket plan when the producers of the parade objected. But he said the Veterans Center still barred the group from the parade.
Made up of military veterans dating back to before World War II, Veterans for Peace opposes the use of war to meet national objectives and wants American troops in Iraq to be brought home. It has roughly 7,500 members in 122 chapters nationwide.
It has sought to march in other parades honoring veterans with mixed results. Michael McPhearson, national executive director of Veterans for Peace, said the group took part in Veterans Day parades in New York and marched in other events nationwide. But it was blocked from taking part in events in cities such as Boston.
McPhearson said the group does not dishonor veterans. The parades, which highlight wars waged for political ends, are inherently political, he said.
“It is ridiculous to say we have this political objective when the whole thing is about politics,” McPhearson said.