This week has been a tribute to heroes. On Tuesday, President Obama bestowed our nation's highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, on Staff Sargeant Salvatore Giunta - the first living endowment since the Vietnam War. Sgt. Giunta's humility and his dismissal of his actions as merely doing his duty stood in stark contrast to the political spinning and inside ball going on in Washington. It was like a brief, cleansing shower of courage and humility, washing off the muck and mire that is our current reality. Congratulations, Sgt. Giunta. You are a man among men and an inspiration to us all. If only there were more like you.
The other tribute comes from little Pittston, PA. This week they laid to rest a native son, killed in Afghanistan November 7th. Wednesday, a public wake was held for Spc. Dale Kridlo (he was interred with full honors at Arlington Thursday). I got a call from my sister about it. She lives near Pittston, and called to ask what I knew of Westboro Baptist Church. She had heard that they were planning a demonstration at Spc. Kridlo's funeral, and the town was up in arms about it. According to the church's website (via the Times Leader):
“Military funerals have become pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool.”
The web posting says the above message will be “preached in respectful, lawful proximity to the memorial of Spc. Dale J. Kridlo” on Wednesday at the church service.
The web posting then states: “Spc. Kridlo gave his life for the Constitutional right of the Westboro Baptist Church to warn America. To deny our First Amendment rights is to declare to the world that Spc. Kridlo died in vain, and that America is a nation of sodomite hypocrites.”
The Westboro posting ends by stating, “The Lord no longer builds the American house; nor does the Lord watch over and protect America. These soldiers are dying for the homosexual and other sins of America. God is now America’s enemy, and God Himself is fighting against America.”
So this is their idea of "respectful"? One shudders to think what constitutes disrespect for these people.
The reaction in Pittston to Westboro's plans was swift and impressive. These are salt of the earth people who don't take kindly to strangers attacking one of their own. The area where Westboro was permitted to protest was surrounded by American flags, effectively blocking any protesters from view. Bikers from the Patriot Guard Riders were there in force, as were a huge number of Pittston residents. Hundreds turned out to pay their respects and drown out the lunatic rantings of Fred Phelps and his Westboro minions.
There are more and more stories of towns rising up in protest of the disgusting displays at the funerals of our military, and it seems to be working. First was Weston, MO, whose residents managed to block Westboro picketers from tormenting the families of Sargeant C.J. Sadell as they attended his funeral and graveside service. Then there was McAlester, OK, where the tires of the Westboro van were slashed and they were refused repair by every service station in town after they attempted to protest the funeral of Sgt. Jason James McCluskey. This after being confronted by up to a thousand counter-protesters earlier in the day.
And now the events in Pittston. The town mobilized in a big way, but it hasn't made much news beyond the local stations. It was the story of the week for the locals, heavily covered in the days prior to the funeral. Perhaps all that coverage, combined with the projected turnout to pay tribute to Sgt. Kridlo and protest Westboro was too much for Phelps and company.
Because this time, they didn't even show up.
For those who say that the people of Pittston were infringing on Westboro's right to free speech, they forget that the people of Pittston also have a right to free speech as well. In this case, their speech is in opposition - and, like the other towns that have rallied around their fallen heroes, they vastly outnumber Westboro's representatives. The first amendment protects free speech from being stifled by the government. There's nothing in there about protection from being drowned out by fellow citizens. Westboro has every right to protest those funerals (although some of the things they say can - and should - be seen as hate speech - please note the church's website is "godhatesfags.com"), and the people of Pittston had every right to honor their dead by protesting that protest.
More and more towns are realizing this, and Westboro seems to be getting the message.
Our heroes and their families deserve honor, not derision; tributes, not protests. The upswell of patriotism and support for our troops and their families is a beautiful thing. They deserve our respect, and it's wonderful to see them getting it.