Wednesday Nov 12 2008
Finger pointing follows Veterans Day fracas
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
Veterans for Peace, Legion leaders clash on who threw parade punches
A day after a dustup at Auburn’s Veterans Day parade, the commander of the local American Legion post and president of Veterans For Peace chapter were blaming each other for the fracas. Legion Post No. 79 Commander Earl Montgomery, who served as parade director, said Wednesday that the veterans’ peace group tried to “sneak into” the parade and he advised them that they needed his permission to be there. Then they started a confrontation by refusing to heed parade rules that have been in place for at least two years to keep protest groups out of an event honoring veterans, he said. But Veterans for Peace President Carroll Nast said it was Montgomery who broke parade rules, citing an act of Congress establishing Veterans Day to promote world peace. He said the group was not mounting a protest Tuesday and, instead, wanted to march as other veterans groups were doing. In the ensuing showdown on Lincoln Way, a 70-year-old Veterans for Peace member was punched twice in the head after a tug-of-war over a sign Montgomery wanted to confiscate. Montgomery said he was taunted by the group and had his hat swatted from his head. The Legion commander said he stood in front of the group and they tried to push through him “stopping short of knocking me down.” Eventually the Veterans for Peace contingent marched at the end of the parade and agreed not to carry the group’s sign – with Montgomery in his truck driving behind them. “This group is notorious for stepping in at the last minute and protesting,” Montgomery said. “We’ll be thinking of getting security next year though we don’t like to do that. But they aren’t welcome.” Montgomery said forms that parade participants are supposed to sign when they register state that permission to take part has to go through the parade director. It’s a screening process to keep protest groups out, he said. Nast said Veterans Day event chairman Cynthia Haynes was contacted the night before and she said they could get into the parade by signing in the next day. Haynes said she recalled giving no indication that signing in would mean the group could participate. Nast was on the parade route with five of the organization’s members when the confrontation took place. Nast said that the group hadn’t filed an entry form before parade day because the decision to participate occurred the day before. Nast said he wants to stress that the group was not taking part in the parade as an anti-war protest. Nast cited a 1938 act of Congress establishing Armistice Day as a legal holiday “dedicated to the cause of world peace.” It was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. “If the American Legion can carry their flag and wear their caps, VFP can carry their banner and wear their caps,” Nast said in a statement. The group signed in and was assigned a spot directly behind a contingent of about 20 Vietnam War veterans. One of that group alerted Montgomery. Nast and Montgomery disagree over who threw punches that hit Vietnam War Air Force pilot Kent Williams of Newcastle. Nast said he watched Montgomery strike Williams on the top of the head and has witnesses to prove it. Montgomery said he has 40 witnesses that will say otherwise and that he didn’t throw a punch. Reached Wednesday, Williams said that the top of his head was sore from the punches – probably the first time he’s been slugged in five decades. But he’s not sure who actually did the punching after he knocked Montgomery’s Legion cap off. Montgomery, a 72-year-old Air Force veteran and former Military Police officer, said he grabbed the banner after demanding that either the group put it away or he would take it away. “Somebody swatted my head and then reached down and grabbed my hat and started to run,” Montgomery said. Williams said that Montgomery picked the hat up the ground immediately after it came off and then grabbed him. That was when someone started to punch him, he said. Initially, he said that he thought the punches came from one of the veterans in the Vietnam War group ahead of him. The brouhaha marred what was an otherwise enjoyable day for veterans and their supporters. Haynes estimated that 3,000 people participated. “I admire what he (Montgomery) did to make that wonderful parade work,” Williams said, but added that he believed the Legion official should have abided by the direction Veterans for Peace believe Haynes gave them the night before. Montgomery said there were still plenty of personal, positive highlights in organizing the parade – from Boy Scouts who helped during and after the event to the Auburn Police, who took care of traffic control, to the patience of Downtown Auburn business owners and customers, who put up with road closures. “This parade was set up to honor and recognize all the veterans who served their country,” Montgomery said. “The Veterans for Peace have a right to protest because our Constitution gives them that right. However, they need to take their protest to the proper places and sign up legally.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.