Spitting on the troops gained notoriety at the close of the Vietnam War when soldiers returning from Southeast Asia were harassed at airports by anti-war protesters. Instead of being welcomed home they were the objects of scorn and then ignored by an apathetic public, rendering their sacrifices on behalf of the nation meaningless. This led many veterans to emotionally withdraw except for limited interaction with close-knit veterans groups. A decade later, the public regretted their treatment of returning veterans and vowed to rectify the shoddy treatment given Vietnam veterans. They built a memorial in Washington and ensured that future veterans would never face similar treatment, at least until now. Last week, the President of the United States symbolically spit on the caskets of fallen soldiers as their bodies were being returned home.

We seemed to have returned to the days when the anti-military “American Left” has once again surfaced to disparage the sacrifices made by Americans on behalf of America. The most sacred of all trusts and promises made to American service members was broken, that is the promise to take care of the families of the Fallen.

For the first time in our history, America deliberately turned its back on widows and orphans of the soldiers who lost their lives in service to the nation. The government refused to pay the death benefit essential to carrying broken-hearted families through the most difficult time imaginable. What happened last week was deliberate, calculated to cause as much anguish as possible to military families, a cheap political maneuver ordered by an administration that knows no bounds in its contempt for those who serve in uniform.

This insult was in addition to the closure of military open-air memorials that had never before been closed during “government shutdowns.” We’ve had 18 shutdowns since 1976 and not once has any administration failed to pay military death benefits; Obama is the first President to cause this to happen. He is also the first President to close open-air memorials or deny access to facilities not requiring admission fees or supervised tours. The barriers put up in Washington to block public access to the open-air WWII Memorial and even the American cemetery in Normandy, France are emblematic of a churlish, petulant President who holds the American people, especially its veterans, in absolute contempt. Added to this, Catholic Chaplains and Protestant ministers are prohibited from holding religious services on military bases during the shutdown, risking arrest if they violate the President’s edict. This includes provision of “last rites” for mortally wounded soldiers in military hospitals. This is not surprising as President Obama’s military advisor for religious affairs is a militant atheist who has described Catholics and Protestants as “terrorists.”

The blocking of death benefits for families of fallen soldiers was not a mistake but a cruel, calculated effort to cause pain to military families and embarrassment to the President’s political opponents. We lose, on average, one military service member a day in peacetime, considerably more in war. Throughout our history, through every previous government shutdown, we’ve always ensured that the families of deceased service members received immediate support and comfort, until now. No administration has ever subjected the payment of the death benefit, essential to meet immediate financial needs, to the byzantine machinations of lawyers. Yet that is exactly what President Obama’s administration did, using it as an excuse to cloak a despicable political maneuver. The result was predictable: they found a legal rationale not to pay the death benefit.

While Congress has rectified this issue, it shouldn’t have happened. The Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, should resign along with his Under-Secretary of Defense for Manpower Affairs. If they don’t, Congress should demand their firing, unless President Obama wishes to accept personal responsibility for this disgraceful fiasco. I’m not holding my breath.

Al Fonzi

Atascadero News article, October 16, 2013