An an­niver­sary marred on the Mall

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

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.

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