The National Park Service has renewed its war against active duty troops who have the brass to polish the brass plate at the base of the flagpole at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
I first reported on the anti-brass shining stance of the National Park Service after Memorial Day 2009.
I followed up with another post two days later, which said the Vietnam Memorial Fund planned to refinish the base, which sports the emblems of all four services plus the Coast Guard, with a coating approved by the Park Service.
The new finish was installed in 2009, but the Park Service still has a dim view of any shine-on efforts, based on the experience of Marine Sgt. Andrew Piskator this past weekend. Piskator, who has served one tour in Iraq and is now stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia, was applying Brasso polish to the base of the flagpole with an old T-shirt, when he was interrupted by a Park Service volunteer in uniform.
Teresa Piskator, his wife, told me in an email, that at first the volunteer politely told Andrew he could not polish the brass, but did not provide any explanation. Then it got ugly. When Andrew did not immediately leave, Teresa said the volunteer "rudely (and loudly, as there had been a few people standing and watching him work on the emblem) started saying how all the Marines constantly coming to polish the emblem were ruining the memorial, and that the Park Services and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund had to keep paying millions of dollars to fix this damage again and again."
This pronouncement confused Jan Scruggs, founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, who told me that even with constant buffing, the brass on the flagpole base would last another hundred years, and would not need a replacement in 2011.
"Of course Brasso does have an erosive effect," Scruggs added, "but not to the extent of causing destruction of the base . . . This is not a skinny belt buckle . . . I see that it is probably not good policy to have Marines with Brasso looking for anything that needs polishing on the Mall. Or at the Iwo Jima [Memorial] or [the] Pentagon . . . But they love doing this [at] the wall."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the flagpole were built with contributions from the public, not the government, and Scruggs said he has enough funds right now to fund the purchase of a new flagpole base to replace the old one a hundred years hence.
Scruggs said he was appalled at the way Piskator was treated, and said he cannot understand why the Park Service "continues to go after United States Marines who bring Brasso to polish their emblem." Some flagpole base buffers have been threatened with charges for destruction of government property, he said.
Instead, the Park Service should celebrate this kind of quiet dedication to a symbol of service and sacrifice. That was her husband's motivation, Teresa Piskator said. "He feels that, by going to polish the emblem, he is paying respect to the Marines who came before him," including both his and her fathers, both of whom served with the Marines in Vietnam.
To make up for the insult Sgt. Piskator suffered, Scruggs said he has invited him to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the public Veterans Day ceremony this November 11 at the memorial.
I called the press office at the National Capitol Region of the Park Service for comment, but have not yet received a reply, due to the dedication today of the Martin Luther King Memorial. Hopefully it does not have any brass that eventually will need polishing.