I Want to Thank You

Published On: December 9, 2021|Categories: MRFF's Inbox|0 Comments|

From: (name withheld)
Subject: I Want to Thank You
Date: December 8, 2021 at 11:08:39 PM MST
To: [email protected]

Dear Sir:
My father was not very religious and didn’t care much for going to church or practicing any particular religion.  Thank you for reminding me how great my dad was and how much he loved this country.   He also loved the Wreaths being placed on the graves of his fallen brothers which many of them were of different religious backgrounds.  Actually they all loved it.   A wreath is a sign of love and respect and is an  eternal never ending ring which connects as all as one. Wreaths are a universal message of hope not just Christian.  Christmas is not just a Christian celebration.  It is a universal celebration of family and the gift of life.  All of my Jewish and non-Christian friends and family celebrate Christmas for joy and peace on earth and not for the birth of Christ.

How many of our fallen hero’s never have anything placed on their grave or a volunteer say their name out load?   Does your organization go and stand at each grave at Arlington and other cemeteries and say their name out loud and place something on each grave?

My mom and dad are buried at Arlington and I guarantee they lived a much happier life than most of the individuals in the articles I read on your site.  I am deeply grateful for those that put wreaths on my parents grave and say their name out loud to celebrate peace, love, and gratitude.

Hate gets us no where only pain. Good luck to you as you find your true self and your true meaning in this life.

I am also deeply grateful to your organization to motivate me to do my part by going and laying wreaths and giving thanks to those that served our great nation.  

(name withheld)

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Martin France

On Dec 9, 2021, at 7:20 AM, Martin France wrote:

Nancy, thanks for your kind and considerate commentary on this issue and MRFF’s valuable work to defend our fallen heroes and their survivors from being taken advantage of by a company that does little more than decorate graves–without truly helping the plight of veterans.  Let me share a response I sent to another writer, as it might illuminate the position with you a little more.  Here you go.  Check out the link, too.  

On Dec 6, 2021, at 9:32 PM, Martin France <[email protected]> wrote:Mr XXXX,I occasionally answer emails like yours for the MRFF in my role as an Advisory Board Member.  First, let me thank you and your family for your dad’s service with the 29th ID.  I’ve been to the Omaha Beach and the US cemetery there twice and both times it was among the most moving experiences of my life.  Once, I was even honored to fold the American flag at retreat as, at the time, an active duty Air Force colonel (I served 37-plus years on active duty).  While many agree that covering every grave at an American veteran’s cemetery with Christmas wreaths may look beautiful, I disagree with your point that ALL of the surviving family members feel the same way.  Mine wouldn’t.  I’m not a Christian.  Not all of those buried in Arlington or on the bluff above Omaha Beach are Christians who observe Christmas, you see.  While I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who buy and place the wreathes, I also think it presumptuous of anyone to just assume that the surviving family members of all those fallen heroes are Christians who want a wreath on their hero’s grave.  What about our Jewish heroes?  Muslims?  Atheists? Others?The MRFF is not anti-wreath.  We are anti-presumption.  We think that anyone who wants a wreath on their loved one’s grave should be able to opt-in and have a wreath put on their grave–or be free to put one there themselves.  We don’t think it should be automatic.  Families can certainly opt in, but the burden shouldn’t be on THEM to opt out.  Remember, one person’s decorating is another person’s vandalism.  If you were Christian, would you want your loved one’s grave and all those in the cemetery decorated with a Muslim symbol by well-meaning donors?  How about a Menorah?  A Confederate Flag?  Something you don’t personally like?  Again, our point is that the mass decoration of a cemetery for veterans, on government property, done by a tightly intertwined for-profit company that established a charity through which people give money to buy wreaths out of their patriotism and goodwill and then funnel that money back into their own company to the tune of millions of dollars per year, shouldn’t be sanctioned and allowed for ALL graves.  If you want to pay a company to put a wreath on your father’s grave, that’s your right.  You do not, on the other hand, have the right to put a decoration of YOUR choosing on the grave of my dad, who is also a veteran–not without first gaining my (and my brother’s) approval.  Do you get that?Just because it makes YOU feel good and YOU think it looks pretty, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for EVERY grave.That’s our point.  You may not like it, but if you just try to think about it a little from someone else’s perspective–someone who may not share your religious perspective–you may be able to understand.  While we share a common love for our country and took an oath to support and defend our Constitution, we don’t ALL like wreaths and the way this company profits from this program.Thanks again for your letter.  We’re not pathetic.  We’re empathetic–even to those that don’t share the same religious perspective.
Sincerely,Marty France, PhDBrigadier General, USAF (Retired)MRFF Advisory Board Member

Response from MRFF Supporter Rabbi Joel Schwartzman

On Dec 9, 2021, at 8:32 AM, Rabbi Joel Schwartzman wrote:

Dear (name withheld) :

 I understand your gratitude for the wreath that might be laid on your parents’ graves.  It isn’t so much the fact that your folks would or would not mind wreaths on their graves.  It is the blanket nature of the project which assumes a symbology which I am certain would offend the families of those not wishing to be so treated. I, whose final repose will be in Arlington, would be utterly appalled were my grave to be so treated.  I say this because, as a former Jewish chaplain in the United States Air Force, I and my fellow Jews were so often excluded, either willfully or not, by non-Jewish chaplains who just assumed the universality of their beliefs and stances. I found that repugnant although I rarely challenged most of this behavior.   I also understand that throughout America, many people, Christians as well as non-Christians celebrate a secular Christmas. I also know that this custom disturbs many Christians for whom this holiday is truly a holy day which celebrates the birth of Jesus.  That people in this country have secularized their sacred celebration deeply offends them. The battles over Christmas which occur annually at this time of year involve sensitivities which, for the rest of the year, aren’t so much assaulted.  The MRFF is attempting to preserve the rights and dignities of those who would not have wanted their graves decorated in the fashion of wreath-laying.  Their families’ sensitivities also need to be taken into account.  That you and yours would welcome this act isn’t the point here, although it wouldn’t take an organization to take the responsibility for laying wreaths on one’s loved ones’ graves.  Individuals could do that.  However, it is Jewish custom to mark one’s visit to a dear one’s grave by placing a stone or stones on the marker not a wreath.   Whatever the wreath may symbolize to you, it is definitely not one that resonates to me as a Jew or a rabbi.  There are certainly those whose character is more religious who see it as a purely Christian symbol.  For that reason alone, those who indeed to do good deeds ought to be taking into account the religious sensitivities of all those buried at our national cemeteries.  They, too, died for this country.  Putting American flags on the grave is appropriate.  Placing wreaths, in my opinion, is definitely not. I wish you happy holidays however you wish to celebrate or observe them.

 Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman,Ch, Col (Ret), USAF

Martin, thank you for your email.  And I will respond by commenting that there are so many of our fallen heroes that don’t have family to opt-in or out of the celebration of life at this wonderful time of year.  I have not been able to go to my parent’s grave for four years and am deeply grateful for someone to honor and say his name out loud.  My father was being promoted to General when he decided to retire from the USAF. As he would always say to me, my brothers,  and his team…don’t make something into an issue when in reality it is not.  Thank you again for your thoughts.

(name withheld)

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Martin France

On Dec 9, 2021, at 9:19 AM, Martin France wrote:

(name withheld) ,It’s not an issue with you and other Christians because for you it’s the “normal” majority world in which you live every day of your life.  As Mao said, the fish don’t notice the water.  As someone who is not Christian, I notice the bias against non-Christians every day of my life. It affects my family and friends.  I do not want Christian symbology put on my grave and I don’t want anyone just assuming that because I served in the military, they are free to put whatever the heck they want on my grave just because THEY think it honors me or looks good for a photo.  You like wreaths.  Good for you.  What if I like something that you find offensive, but I think honors people?  Can I spray paint it on public buildings?  On tombstones?  On property that doesn’t belong to me?  For just ONCE, try to see the world from the standpoint of someone who believes and looks different from you.  Black Americans perceive much of the world differently from me (I’m of European descent).  LGBTQ+ folks also have different experiences.  Non-Christians don’t want to be Christians–they want to live their lives without someone assuming something that is incorrect or that we want to be like you.  And why are we spending $25M per year on wreaths (that accomplish nothing tangible, but instead just make for nice–to some–photos) instead of channeling that money to a cause that can help veterans and the survivors of our fallen?  Mulch or money?  I’ll take money and aid.  You can console yourself with pretty postcards–while 22 veterans per day are committing suicide.  You can decorate their graves with wreaths.  I’ll give my money to organizations like “22 Until None,” that actually help people and don’t line the pockets of a company that sells mulch–I mean wreaths.
I wish you a superb solstice

Marty France Brigadier General, USAF (Retired)MRFF Advisory Board Member

Response from MRFF Board Member John Compere

On Dec 9, 2021, at 11:38 AM, John Compere wrote:

(name withheld),

Thank you for the civility of your communication.
Please be advised some families of deceased military veterans do not want a religious organization to which they do not belong promoting its religion version & marketing its religious organization by presumptuously putting & publicizing its religious symbols on the graves of their deceased loved ones without permission. Those families consider it uninvited & unwanted intrusions on the personal burial sites of their deceased military veterans.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (composed of 85% Christians) represents, when requested, the right of those families to object & prevent what they consider to be thoughtless trespassing on the graves of their deceased military veterans. We do so because we support & respect the wishes of those military families. Please see militaryreligiousfreedom.org.

Most Sincerely,

Brigadier General John Compere, US Army (Retired)Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member James Currie

I have been asked by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to respond to your recent email about wreaths being placed on veterans’ graves. It seems to me that you have conflated the Christian wreath with other non-sectarian symbols, like mistletoe, for example. It is entirely possible that in some family circles the meaning of Christmas has been so diluted by its commercialization that you would find Jews and others using it as a reason to give presents to each other and ignoring its historical significance as a celebration of Christ’s birth. But for those who believe that their Savior Jesus Christ was born at this time of year, Christmas and its symbols have not lost their religious potency. Yes, Christmas Eve services are often sparsely attended, but they are attended.

There is no doubt that the Christmas wreath is a symbol of a particular religion: Christianity. It has been thus for hundreds of years, and the fact that for some people it has assumed a non-religious symbolism is no indication that it has assumed such for everyone. The Christmas tree started as a pagan symbol, but it is now a primary symbol of a celebration that is focused on one particular religion: Christianity.

You come across as a reasonable person, so I pose the following to you: If some group were to decide to place Jewish symbols on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery, how would you feel? What if they were Muslim symbols? Or Hindu symbols? Or Confucian symbols? Or the symbols of any of the 4000+ non-Christian religions that exist in our world today? Would that make you feel any better about someone “honoring” your dad?

MRFF does not object to a group placing a Christian symbol on a veterans’ grave, if that’s what the veterans’ survivors desire. But what if that group is placing a symbol that does not reflect the religious beliefs of the veteran? How would you react to that? Our country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state—Jefferson referred to that separation as a “wall”—and that separation is what has kept us free of the sectarian strife that has plagued so many other countries through the ages. MRFF embraces that Jeffersonian “wall of separation”—as does the U.S. Constitution–and strives to prevent anyone in high command from proselytizing those under them and from pressuring their subordinates with respect to their religious beliefs. The word “freedom” is in the name of the MRFF, because that is what it stands for.  If you want a group to place a Christian wreath on your father’s grave, despite his being “not very religious” and not “practicing any particular religion,” then that is your privilege. What MRFF does not want is for that privilege to be abused by those who would willy-nilly place Christian symbols on the graves of non-Christians. It believes that such wreath-placing is an insult to the deceased veteran, and does not honor their memory. I hope I am making sense to you.

Col. James T. Currie, USA (Ret.), Ph.D.

Board of Advisors, Military religious Freedom Foundation

Ordained Elder, Presbyterian Church (USA)

John,Thank you for your communication.  We can certainly agree to disagree.  And you can communicate to your other board member, Martin, that I have stepped into the shoes of the gay and black community veterans and helped many when no one else would.  I also understand the sucide rate which my father experienced with his men and women.  The VA is going down the tubes once again and my heart is saddened by it.  We can both agree on these topics.  Good luck to you with your future endeavors.Cheers, (name withheld)

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Mike Farrell

On Dec 15, 2021, at 8:59 PM, Mike wrote:
Hi (name withheld),
Your sarcasm is off point and your naive claim to speak for all others is exactly the problem.You don’t speak for all others and it’s the height of arrogance to suggest you do.
No doubt your father was a very generous man. You do well to follow his example in general, but if he believed non-Christians don’t mind being treated as if their faith doesn’t matter, he was quite wrong.
A Christmas wreath may be thought of as a sign of love and respect by a Christian, but it is insensitive and thoughtless, at a minimum, to assume all who believe differently see it that way.
There’s no question that the predominant faith in the U.S. is Christianity, but that’s what makes it so easy for Christians to forget their obligation to respect the rights of those who don’t share their faith and recognize the fact that those people’s belief system, whatever it may be, is as meaningful and important to them as yours is to you.
So to plaster a military cemetery with Christmas wreaths without taking the time to research which of the gravesites would rather not receive one is an act of either thoughtlessness or arrogance.
Though you meant if sarcastically, we’re happy that our effort motivated you to pay attention to a veterans’ cemetery. Evidently you hadn’t been so inclined before. It would be tragic, though, if your intention now is to do so to spite people you don’t know and don’t understand. That would not be a very Christian thing to do.
Mike Farrell (MRFF Board of Advisors)

From: (name withheld)
Subject: Re: Want to Thank You
Date: December 16, 2021 at 9:19:50 AM MST
To: Mike

Mike:Thank you for the response to the correspondence sent about your organization,  Food for thought on my end.


(name withheld)

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