This bit goes under the heading of "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished."
In my Memorial Day column I wrote about Army Sgt. Caleb Barrieau, an Iraq war veteran, who has spent one weekend day for the past three months polishing the brass service emblems at the base of the flagpole at the Vietnam Memorial.
Barrieau, who served with the Maine National Guard in Iraq before opting to become an Army regular, is a real hooah kind of guy who shines the brass out of respect for the fallen, who are commemorated at the Vietnam Memorial. He also does it because any good soldier hates the sight of tarnished brass.
He's not sought publicity for this selfless task. I found out about him from my friend Joe Mancinik, a post-9/11 Navy veteran I'm mentoring while he attends The George Washington University.
Joe encountered Barrieau shining the brass last month and decided to join the ad-hoc-brass-shining task.
But all that came to a halt on May 30 at the direction of a National Park Service ranger and police officer.
Mancinik called me Saturday afternoon from the memorial and told me that the ranger and police officer (mounted on a horse) had told them that brass shining at the Vietnam Memorial flagpole was forbidden as a matter of policy. And we all know Washington has a policy that covers every imaginable human activity, including, it seems, memorial brass polishing.
This antishine stance perplexes Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Memorial Fund, who told me that troops from all the services have shined the flagpole brass over the years and he considers it an act of respect. "People feel part of the Vietnam Memorial, especially active duty [troops] and veterans," Scruggs told me.
The care and attention to the memorial by veterans like Barrieau and Mancinik stand out in stark contrast to other national parks, which are victims of neglect, he said.
For sure, some regular polishing will eventually wear away the brass - sometime by the year 2100, Scruggs estimated. But, he said, the Vietnam Memorial Fund -- which built the Wall and the flagpole with contributions, not taxpayer dollars -- has enough money in its kitty to replace the flagpole base (and brass) when and if it needs it -- some 91 years from now.
I sent an e-mail to a National Park Service spokeswoman this morning asking her to provide me with the relevant law, regulation or statute that bans polishing and shining at the Vietnam Memorial. I have yet to hear back.
I'm hopeful that no such policy exists, so Barrieau, Mancinik and other vets and active duty troops can continue, as Barrieau puts it, "We will have a chance to continue to shine onward honoring all those before us."