A group of 14 soldiers in Wisconsin have caused a furor on the social media after posting a photo showing them posing and acting like clowns around an empty, flag-draped casket. On the social media and in military chat rooms, people immediately reacted with anger and dismay, saying that the photo is disrespectful of both soldiers killed in action and also of veterans.
The image was taken at an Arkansas guard training facility, but included soldiers from other units. The soldier who posted the photo online has been suspended from her duties by the Wisconsin National Guard on Tuesday. Reportedly the soldier is receiving death threats for her post of the photo and the National Guard is taking action to protect her.
The Instagram account on which the photo was posted belonged to one Spc. Terry Harrison, who is attached to the Madison, Wisconsin-based 1st Battalion. While the Instagram account has since been closed, the photo has already been re-posted many times over the widespread social media network.
The image shows a group of soldiers surrounding a casket, which bears a caption making a joke that the honor guard “put the FUN in funeral.” Of the soldiers involved in the group, some are hugging, most are grinning, one is posing like the famous “Thinker” statue and another even flashes the peace sign. Yet another stands with his back to the camera pointing vaguely into the distance.
Apparently this was not the only casket photo of Wisconsin soldiers posted online that caused a furor. A second photo reportedly posted by Harrison referred to the recent cold spell and made the suggestion that cold weather at military funerals could end up resulting in poor folding of the U.S. flag, when presented to families from their loved one’s casket.
Maj. Paul Rickert, director of public affairs for the Wisconsin National Guard, says that Harrison was suspended from the Wisconsin honor guard and is assigned to other duties while the investigation is ongoing. Reportedly officials have also been getting in touch with the National Guard Bureau, as many of the soldiers in the photo were from other units, and should also be disciplined.
The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel is reporting that a second guardsman has been suspended from duty in the incident. Sgt. Luis Jimenez will remain a full-time guardsman and is based in Madison, but according to Rickert, Jimenez is relieved of funeral honors duties after defending the photo on the social media.
According to Rickert, officials decided to let members of the public express their outrage (including sharing the image), on the Facebook page of the Wisconsin Army National. They said they wanted to allow people to vent their frustrations over what is a very serious matter.
The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel quotes Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, who heads up the Wisconsin National Guard as saying the casket photo of the soldiers which has caused the furor online is “unacceptable.” He said that for those who wear, or have in the past worn, the nation’s uniform, the story “cuts like a knife,” adding that he deeply regrets any pain the incident has caused and took it upon himself to personally apologize to the entire military family.
By Anne Sewell