In Hudson, Ohio, at a time when the nation needs reflection and healing, one of those who answered the call is retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barney Kemter. Lt. Colonel Kemter is a 77-year-old and a Gulf war veteran who spoke on a service organized by the American Legion’s post in Hudson, Ohio.
The Colonel, however, was silenced because the Colonel dared to remind the service attendees that indeed the freed black slaves were among those who first honored the casualties of the American civil war, the fallen soldiers. As soon as the American Legion’s Hudson post realized that the Colonel was paying tribute to the black freed slaves, the organizers cut his mic, and the Colonel, who never thought he was intentionally silenced, taps the mic thinking that the problem was technical. It is unbelievable that in Hudson, Ohio, a decorated officer and a veteran was denied not only to pay tribute but also denied those who attended to be educated, for, after all, isn’t Memorial Day intended to remember and pay tribute?
Speaking on the incident, Lt. Colonel Barney Kemter, who is also a Hudson resident, painfully stated,
“I find it interesting that [the American Legion] … would take it upon themselves to censor my speech and deny me my First Amendment right to [freedom of] speech, this is not the same country I fought for”.
Though the Colonel denied being interviewed by some of America’s biggest media corporations, such as CNN, earlier on pointed out that he only wanted to share a bit of history about the holiday, which he thought people did not know about it.
The American Legion’s Hudson, Ohio post 464 charter, which organized the service, is part of the American Legion. It was first established on 15th of March 1919 in Paris, France, by one thousand officers, delegates of the American expeditionary forces that fought in World War I on the western front under the command of General John J Pershing.
The legion’s founding members included the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt III. From President Truman to President George W Bush were all notable members of the legion. General Patton and General Douglas MacArthur, and movie star Clark Gable, were also distinguished legion members. However, on Memorial Day, it was not only Lieutenant Colonel Kemter who was betrayed but a long line of men who’ve put America on the map, the very fabric and the soul of America itself.
Hudson Mayor Craig Shubert, along with all the seven city council members, issued a statement saying,
“Disheartened to learn that the American Legion turned the sound off for a portion of retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter’s speech during the Legion’s Memorial Day Ceremony. The legion explained that mentioning the role that people of color played in [the] History of Memorial Day was ‘not relevant to our program for the day.’ We condemn the actions taken by the American Legion to censor the comments of Lt. Col. Kemter. The decision disrespected the Lieutenant Colonel who has valiantly served our country and was there to honor veterans in his speech, and it disrespected all Hudson and American veterans nationwide who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the freedoms we value as Americans. The people who came to honor the brave men and women who died for our country were deprived of hearing the totality of comments the speaker intended as he honored America’s fallen. Veterans have done everything we have asked of them during their service to this country, and this tarnished what should have been a celebration of their service.
The American Legion took swift action, which led to the suspension of the Hudson charter of the American Legion and the subsequent resignation of Jim Garrison, the charter’s leader. The American Legion also demanded Mr. Garrison’s permanent resignation of his membership altogether. If the freed slaves could overcome their bitterness at the hands of those who enslaved them, the leadership of the Hudson charter of the American Legion had no reason whatsoever to not tolerate few sentences in a speech that endeavored to pay tribute to the freed black slaves.
While the American Legion’s action sends a loud and clear message that racism and denying the contributions of the African Americans and the freed black slaves will not be tolerated, Hudson still has a long way ahead as schools in Hudson are struggling with racism and intolerance.
Lt. Colonel Kemter, in his tribute to the freed black slaves, though it took an uneventful twist, has made the nation reflect on history and past injustices. The American Legion has posted Colonel Kemter’s speech in its entirety on its website. Just as the freed slave communities honored every soldier by exhuming their bodies from mass graves and giving them a befitting honorable burial as Colonel Kemter set out in his speech, remembering and giving tribute to every American community by acknowledging their contributions is perhaps the very spirit of Memorial Day. What do you think?