A syndicated columnist from Minnesota, Garrison Keillor, wrote a scathing piece that appeared in many major newspapers across the country condemning a national non-profit POW/MIA -Veterans group, Rolling Thunder © their site here, for their disruption of his Memorial Day Weekend in our nation’s capitol. It appears that Mr. Keillor was inconvenienced by having to wait some 20 minutes to cross Constitution Avenue on Sunday, May 25, 2008 as Rolling Thunder’s 21st Annual POW/MIA Demonstration Ride took place through the Capital. Reports have estimated that some 350,000 bikers came from all corner of the US, Canada and even Australia to demonstrate in the name of those 100,000 POW/MIAs that are still unaccounted for from all our military conflicts as well as some significant issues that affect our military veterans.
It would appear that Mr. Keillor, felt the need to express his discontent by lashing out using his “the pen is mightier than the sword” technique. It is significant to note that Mr. Keillor was not in DC for business, this was a leisure visit. On that day he was just another American enjoying a beautiful day in our nation’s capital. Therefore he decided to use his next syndicated piece as a weapon against these 350,000 patriots who disrupted his day. Before dissecting his piece, which I refuse to provide a link to, let’s just say that Mr. Keillor didn’t plan the logistics of his day’s events and instead of blaming himself for the “piss poor planning on his part” he decided to wield his pen to reallocate blame.
Please keep in mind that many websites geared toward DC for visitors, DC papers and even hotels were making Memorial Day Weekend visitors to DC well aware of the fact that Constitution Ave. would be inaccessible during certain times on Sunday. It suffices to say, Mr. Keillor didn’t get the memo.
Dear Mr. Keillor,
To dutifully correct you, this was no “tribute” or “celebration”. It was a demonstration. It was a message to Washington’s political arm that those assembled are well aware of the fact that men were knowingly left behind in past wars and we want them to act appropriately to correct it. If you had done some research before you put pen to paper, you would have learned from Rolling Thunder’s Mission Statement that,
THE MAJOR FUNCTION OF ROLLING THUNDER ®, INC. IS TO PUBLICIZE THE POW-MIA ISSUE: TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC THAT MANY AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR WERE LEFT BEHIND AFTER ALL PREVIOUS WARS AND TO HELP CORRECT THE PAST AND TO PROTECT FUTURE VETERANS FROM BEING LEFT BEHIND SHOULD THEY BECOME PRISONERS OF WAR-MISSING IN ACTION. WE ARE ALSO COMMITTED TO HELPING AMERICAN VETERANS FROM ALL WARS.
Mr. Keillor, you went on to say that the “patriotism somehow gets lost in the sheer irritation of the thing.” How irritating indeed. I wonder how we could compare your irritation with the “irritation” of having a loved one captured and never returned? Or with the children who hold their parent’s hand on their death bed being told to keep fighting with Washington to find their brother still missing from Vietnam? Or with the mothers of soldiers Byron Fouty and Alex Jimenez captured last year in Iraq?
You explained that you went to see some fine artwork at the National Gallery after the disruption of you day and found the peace and quiet to be “an outpost of civilization.” How ironic that this “civilization” that you so enjoyed was bought and paid for by the brave men who are remembered on the various memorials found just a few blocks away. These men who loved their country and valued all that it stands for more than they valued their own lives. I am reminded of the George Orwell quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” There is no doubt that you, Mr. Keillor, are one of those sleeping peaceably …
You drone on for three paragraphs about the artwork you saw and how, in your mind, all one needs to know about war can be read in the specific books you mention. Well, Mr. Keillor, there are certain things in life that must be lived in order to be truly understood. Those of us with children can attest to the fact that what we thought being a parent was and what it is are two very different things. The same can be said about war. No one in that demonstration “played soldier”, Mr. Keillor, and I can assure you they didn’t consider it a game. The overwhelming majority of those that drove by you have seen war, they have lived it is a way that only their band of brothers can understand. These are the rough men who stood ready to do violence on your behalf. If you were truly searching for those who are “playing soldier”, you simply needed to head to the opposite end of Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill. There is where you will find people who know little if anything about being a soldier, yet trying to pretend that they do. They did it during Vietnam and they are doing it again.
Many of us are curious as to how you expressed your patriotism while in DC for Memorial Day. After seeing the artwork did you pause at any of the war memorials? Did you take the Metro to Arlington Cemetery? Did you go to the VA Hospital to visit with Veterans as hundreds of members of Rolling Thunder did on the day before the ride? Did you walk up to one of those bikers and shake his hand and say thank you? Did you stop to listen to the speeches given by those supporting the POW/MIA Issue? One certainly does wonders.
The most important question I have to ask Mr. Keillor is this; What do you do to reach out to those in need? When was the last time you did something that wasn’t self-serving? What causes do you support? Not just with writing a check for a tax write off or spending $200 a plate for a gala but something that you give you time to, something that you believe in?
You see Mr. Keillor, these 350,000 people spent their hard earned cash and rode their bikes from as far away as California and even flew in from Australia to participate in what you deemed an “irritation”. These folks rode for battle brothers who made the ultimate sacrifice, missing battle brothers and some even rode for their missing family members. They gave up their trips to the museum, their picnics, yard work, pool time and their day off to give voice to those who have none. And what did you give up? 20 minutes standing in the sun on a street corner. How patriotic of you!
One final thought, Mr. Keillor. You painted your description of these 350,000 people with a very broad brush. I can assure you that there were people on those bikes who earn more money than you do and live in a home much nicer than yours. Yet they rode on bikes not BMW to send a message. You made reference to these ponytail clad bikers, well, you would be surprised to learn that many of them later donate that hair to “Locks of Love” and then start growing their hair to donate it all over again. Can I ask again about what you do for others?
Class is over, Mr. Keillor, I would recommend that in the future, the next time you decide to take a trip or write about something that you know nothing about, don’t follow the traditional stereotypes or make assumptions, do you research, after all, you are a journalist.