You’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me. Runnin’ down a way of life our fightin’ men have fought and died to keep. If you don’t love it, leave it.
— Merle Haggard
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I walked into Veterans Park Saturday. I’d been contacted and told that there was graffiti on monuments in the park. But that still didn’t adequately prepare me for what I would come upon.
Lines of black spray paint, some of it so heavy it made the words underneath unreadable, were used to obscure the inscriptions on the World War II and Vietnam memorials as well as a smaller monument erected in honor of Spc. 4 James Worthy, the only Albany soldier killed during the first Gulf War.
It wasn’t the ugly black squiggles on the stark white stones of the monuments that made the scene so hard to look at. It’s what those monuments represent — and what their defacement represents — that struck me. It was as if the vandals who so brazenly applied the paint had spat in the faces of men and women who had given their lives, ironically, to protect the very freedoms that allow low-life scum to do what these individuals did with minimal reprisal.
I probably read too many Michael Connelly novels, but the fact that vandals defaced these same monuments — which are generally a part of Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations in the region — before a similar patriotic holiday last year leads me to believe the perpetrator could very well be someone who has an issue with such celebrations.
In my anger, I imagine some disenchanted souls who have a beef with their lot in life. So, cowardly, they attack those monuments that are symbolic of our country’s freedom.
I hate to be all cliche, but I wonder what response their actions would get in one of the countries whose totalitarian governments do more than frown on such things.
Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard called me from his family vacation when he heard about the monument defacement. His anger fairly crackled through the phone line.
“Fletch, I don’t know what anybody’s doing, but you can tell the people that I’ll add $2,000 to any reward they offer to help catch these folks,” Sinyard said. “This is a slap in the face to our community, and it’s a slap in the face to the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom.”
When Albany Police Department Lt. Tony Moore arrived at Veterans Park Saturday as part of a team investigating the vandalism, he told me, resignedly, “With all these kids around here have to do, they do this.”
Maybe Moore’s right. Maybe this is the action of bored — or even really bad — kids, kids looking for the perverse pleasure that some seem to derive from such destruction. I’ve known kids like that, and their reasoning is always the same: Well, we didn’t hurt anybody.
What they don’t understand — and what parents who condone such action by covering for their kids when they learn of their antisocial behavior don’t understand — is that this kind of vandalism runs much deeper than graffiti. It runs deeper than the cleanup costs. And it runs deeper than disruption of a solemn memorial.
The paint on those three monuments in Veterans Park leave stains that no industrial cleaner will ever wash away. They leave stains on our collective souls.
(Final note: Charles Holsey, one of the Vietnam veterans who spoke with me for the four-part series on the war and its aftermath that ends today, offered a telling — and moving — side note after the first article in the series appeared in The Herald. “I’m so glad you told our stories,” Holsey said. “See, all a lot of Vietnam veterans wanted when they came back from the war was a welcome home, like our other soldiers had gotten. Most of us never got one. When I see a fellow veteran, I always thank him for his service. And for the many veterans who have never received one, I say, ‘Welcome home, brother. Welcome home.’”)