For the past 80 years, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Patriotic Council has held its annual Veterans Day event on the grounds of the local school, where citizens and students could comfortably gather to honor those who served their country and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during wartime.
But this year, the Council was required to make a last-minute change of venue, compliments of school district leaders who—after 8 decades—consider the presence of a traditional, rifle-toting military honor guard “inappropriate” on school property.
Kaye Olsen, Vice President of the Patriotic Council, said in recent years the subject of firing the rifles during patriotic ceremonies had arisen, but it became a defining issue for the first time this year.
“We like to honor the veterans; we bring them in (to school) on a regular basis,” said Tim Leibham, Executive Director of Administration with the Eau Claire School District. “There are just some conditions that we have to adhere to and the shooting of guns … is something we don’t feel is appropriate given society, and the concerns that we have and that the community has, on school premises.”
With no chance for negotiation, this year’s event was relocated to the parking lot of a nearby fast-food restaurant.
“I was hoping maybe we could find a compromise, but when it comes to the weapons, there was no compromise,” Olsen told the local NBC-TV affiliate last week. “It’s really hard to tell the veterans they’re not allowed to bring those rifles in … which, the only purpose is, to honor our flag and our country and to teach the kids.”
As is the case with most military honor guards who fire honorary volleys during military events and veterans’ funerals, the rifles used by the Eau Claire squad were altered to prevent the use of live ammunition.
But, in the end, that fact proved inconsequential to school officials. “We’d had family and students (who) were uneasy, even with blanks being fired on school premises,” Leibham said.