An anniversary marred on the Mall
At 11 a.m. on Dec. 16, the sky was overcast on the Mall. The light snow and 20-degree temperature were appropriate, as 40 or so veterans of the Battle of the Bulge gathered at the National World War II Memorial to observe the 66th anniversary of the battle. The veterans and their families stood to one side of the marble marker chiseled with the words “Battle of the Bulge.” On the other side stood the 84-piece Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides.
Founded in the 1830s, the group is considered one of the world’s foremost wind bands. Its members traveled from Belgium to be with us during our four-day reunion, along with dignitaries from Belgium, Luxembourg and the United States. They had already performed for us at the Belgian Embassy and the Kennedy Center.
Into this scene came a uniformed park ranger in radio communication with someone. He would not allow the ceremony of the placing of the wreath to begin. There was a discussion with our spokesman, and the ranger demanded that the band move behind the veterans so some protocol (something about playing an instrument with one’s back to the wall) would be followed. He remarked, loudly enough for several to hear, “There are more players in the band than spectators.”
What the park employee apparently did not comprehend was that we were not spectators; we were participants in an honorable commemoration. For 15 or 20 minutes, as the band was herded into its proper place, the 80-to 90-year-old veterans huddled with their families on the snow-covered marble. Finally, the ceremony went on. Proper park employee protocols were observed, but the solemnity and honor of the moment were disturbed.
As a veteran in the group, I was embarrassed for this prestigious band and its leaders. They have played for many formal occasions all over Europe. What must they have been thinking? I have no idea how to apologize to them.
We gathered to pay homage to our fallen countrymen. The park employee and his superiors seemed to have no idea of the depth of our feelings, for the people of Belgium and Luxembourg and for our “band of brothers.” I feel sorry for the young park employee who demanded proper protocol. Has he had no school or parent to teach him how to respect, adapt and think beyond a meaningless rule? The park service would be well advised to include respect, adaptation and sensitivity training for its current and future public servants.
Robert Schneider, Hortonville, Wis.