By Major General Jerry Curry, USA (Ret.)
Leadership matters. Can you imagine our current President smeared with dirt and blood climbing up out of a foxhole with bullets whizzing around him and mortar rounds exploding all over the battlefield, and shouting above the sound of the detonations, “What’s wrong with you men? Do you want to live forever? Get out of those foxholes and follow me. We’re going to charge this hill and kill every enemy SOB on top of it.” That is real leadership, the kind we teach the young men and women who volunteer to hazard their lives in the service of their country.
When the President learned that our nation’s World War II Veterans were being barricaded out of their own memorial on the National Mall, he should have had the Secret Service drive him down to where they were assembled, picked up the nearest barricade and torn it down himself. He should have dismissed the Park Rangers who were blockading the pathway to the memorial and sent them back to their barracks. Then he should have ushered the veterans inside, and taken the time to shake hands with each of them as they entered that hallowed place.
When he got back to the White House he should have, by Presidential Order, declared all war memorials and national parks nationwide open for America’s citizens to visit and enjoy. It takes more time, money and Park Rangers to close the memorials and national parks across America and keep them closed, than it does to open them and keep them open. If there really is a shortage of Park Rangers, the Boy Scouts could find volunteers and assign some Eagle Scouts the task of keeping the memorials and parks open. They would be more than happy to do it.
The job of the President was to find a way to open the memorials and parks for all Americans and to keep them open, but especially for our veterans. As the Commander-in-Chief he should have brushed aside all the obvious political pettiness and stupidity on display at the WW II Memorial and seen to it that America’s veterans were treated with the respect they have earned and deserve. He missed a great opportunity to show his personal appreciation for their sacrifices and to exercise real presidential leadership in honoring both the nation and its veterans.
What was the message the WW II Vets were trying to send to the President and to the Congress? To paraphrase President Reagan it was, “Tear down these barricades. You have no right to keep us from visiting our own memorials, the ones we paid for with our blood and lives.
How do we know that the White House approved keeping the WW II Vets out of visiting their own memorial? We know because according to the press, the National Park Service Director, Jonathan Jarvis, telephoned the White House several times to coordinate keeping the Veterans out of the memorial. He also coordinated his actions with the Office of the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
Why did the President permit the WW II Memorial to be closed in the first place? There is no way of knowing except that he doesn’t seem to like the military very much and seems unconstrained in actions that belittle and weaken the military, such as drastically reducing the military’s budget, or his administration’s comparing our veterans who return home from fighting the nation’s war in the middle east to terrorists.
Actions such as these cannot endear the Commander-in-Chief to our armed forces who everyday risk their lives in the service of their country. In fact, they do just the opposite.
If things continue on as they are, at some time in the future there will be a complete breakdown in trust and leadership between the President and the nation’s armed forces. Leadership matters.