Hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day. Most of the state stories related to the holiday involved governors signing bills benefitting veterans -- giving them free college tuition in Wisconsin or health benefits in Illinois, for example. President Bush signed a law banning funeral protests at national cemeteries. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) did the same last Friday.
But one story that caught my attention comes from Michigan, where sticklers for flag etiquette are colliding with the supporters of veterans. Now, normally, I imagine, these are two groups that don't disagree often. I mean, we're talking about patriotic people on both sides here.
The controversy? An order by Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to fly flags at half staff every time a servicemember from Michigan dies.
But critics of the governor's policy want to halt such flag honors, saying they violate the U.S. Flag Code. They contend that the code's compilers never intended flags be lowered for soldiers but only high-ranking government and elected officials.
"The world seems to be caught up in this frame of mind where it's not enough to say we're sorry (for a death) to show our compassion and our patriotism," said Bruce Butgereit, of Kentwood, national patriotic instructor for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. "We are now taking it upon ourselves to use our national symbols to stretch the Flag Code to its limits."
The story comes from the Washington bureau of Booth Newspapers in Michigan (they have the Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo papers, among others).
Since December 2003, Granholm has awarded flag honors for 67 fallen soldiers. The proclamation starting the practice was signed into law nine months after the war in Iraq began and was prompted by calls from families and local officials. So far, 84 soldiers from Michigan have been killed in the war.
"The U.S. code provides the governor with that option, and the governor has chosen to exercise it," said Liz Boyd, Granholm's press secretary. "Where is the controversy in honoring brave men and women who are fighting for our freedoms in Iraq and Afghanistan? The controversy is lost on me."
For Jeannine Trybus of Grand Rapids, the controversy isn't about what's due brave soldiers, but rather, what is established U.S. tradition. She says a review of the history shows that individual soldiers weren't supposed to be honored this way.
"I think every time that flag comes down it cheapens the gesture," said Trybus, who also objected to the president lowering flags for Katrina victims. "I don't believe the soldiers expect this. There are so many people denigrating the United States. I don't think we should be part of that by denigrating one of our own symbols and its meaning."
There's a lot more to this story, and it could actually pop up elsewhere. The story says governors in more than 12 states -- it lists Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota but not the others -- have similar orders. And Granholm's GOP opponent said he would stop the practice if he were elected governor.