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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Minnesota High School Cancels Veterans Tour Engagement

What does a group of touring veterans do when they have an event suddenly canceled out from under them? They find a place offered to them by other veterans to stage their event, of course.

Forest Lake Area High School was to be the site of an event featuring the group Vets for Freedom today, an event planned to be a part of a social studies activity for students of the high school, allowing students the chance to have a question and answer session with veterans of the war in the Middle East.

There were to be no political endorsements, no political statements, no political agendas; it was strictly an event in which high school students were to be given a chance to meet with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Around 12 hours prior to the event, Forest Lake alum and Vets for Freedom head Pete Hegseth was informed by the schools principal that the event was not going to be permitted to take place at the school, citing "several phone calls" from an unspecified number of "concerned parents" that the event was going to be a political forum, and that if it was held there would be protests.

I think it's extremely unfortunate that a school would bow to the political pressure of outside groups and not bring in a veterans organization," Hegseth said. "Are we saying that patriotism and duty and honor have no place in our public schools?" So far, the tour has visited one school, albeit a private school.

The stop in Forest Lake was supposed to involve about 150 social studies students and was going to be closed to the public but open to the media. But the last-minute venue change left Hegseth wondering how many people would actually show up today.

Under a cloud of uncertainty, the tour made arrangements to move to the American Legion post, unsure if there would be anyone to actually show up for the event on such short notice of the change of venue. As it wound up, the Legion Post wound up with over 200 people attending, a standing room only crowd for the tour.

While it is uncertain as to the actual number of parents to have called the school to complain about the event, two possibilities come to mind; was the pressure significant enough for the principal to make a determination that the event needed to be canceled, or was it internal pressure of school administrators, perhaps the principal himself, that caused the cancellation of the event at Forest Lake?

While it is hardly as publicized as the protestations outside the Marine recruiting station in Berkeley, California, Minnesota has seen more than a few incidents in recent years of protests against both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed protests against the military itself. Minnesota is also the first state to have elected a Muslim to Congress, during a time when our nation is at war with factions of radical extremist Muslims.

This situation with Forest Lake gives one pause for a moment to think, and to reflect, upon the inherent contradictions within our society today. We celebrate "the Greatest Generation," paying tribute to them and their sacrifices during the World War II era. Our fascination with them is reflected in film today, with such outings as Saving Private Ryan, Flags of our Fathers, Band of Brothers, and other such movies and mini-series; we pay homage to the foundation of our nation with such films as the Patriot and John Adams, and yet a Minnesota high school will not allow a group of modern veterans, with no political agenda, to hold an event that would contribute greatly to the historical education of it's students.

But that in itself is a story for another day.

Once and Always, an American Fighting Man


It seems that some of the high school students made it to the event at the Legion Post and participated after all.

Dozens of students at Forest Lake High School were so upset that they skipped school to go see the speech.

"My brother's in the armed's a slap in the face for people with family members in the armed forces," said student Elijah Miller.

The non-profit, non-partisan group does talk about staying in Iraq, but Hegeseth said the current speech has been adjusted for public school students. He said it's about sharing experience.