Local View: City of Duluth dishonors veterans, honored war dead with fee hike

From the column: "Our objection to the fee was never about the money. It was so much deeper than that. ... In 1997, I put a shotgun in my mouth and was ready to commit suicide because of the panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares I was suffering as a result of my service."

2017 News Tribune file photo / The Duluth Honor Guard turns onto Grand Avenue in West Duluth to begin the Memorial Day parade in West Duluth.

This week I learned that a “private citizen” had stepped forward to pay the fee to the city of Duluth for the annual Memorial Day parade. On local talk radio, Mayor Emily Larson characterized this as a win.

What the mayor does not seem to understand is that, by butting heads with local veterans like me over the cost of the parade, she and her administrators further isolated themselves from Duluth’s veterans community.

For nearly a century, the city paid for the Memorial Day Parade. Most of our politicians prior to 2008 seemed to understand and appreciate the importance and significance of the sacrifices made by our military men and women. In 2008, there was a “gentlemen’s agreement” made between the veterans community and the city that the veterans would pay $400 for the parade, an amount to be capped and never increased. Ever!

I would like to personally acknowledge the cities of Rice Lake, Hermantown, and Proctor, their mayors, their police chiefs, and their established councils for being willing to host our veterans and our hallowed parade at no cost when it looked like Duluth’s fee would be prohibitive (“ Fee hike puts Memorial Day parade in question ,” July 30). These communities outside Duluth all stated that they would embrace our veterans and allow us to celebrate the sacrifices made by our honored war dead. “You have a home with us,” they told area veterans involved with the annual Memorial Day parade in West Duluth. Their openness is what Duluth should emulate with regard to veterans.

As a principled man, I learned of many people willing to pay our Memorial Day parade fee, long before the city found a silent donor.


Our objection to the fee was never about the money. It was so much deeper than that.

Duluth pays to keep Spirit Mountain, public golf, skate parks, dog parks, bike trails, and more afloat but wasn’t willing to support one veteran event annually at an infinitesimal cost. The city dishonored the very people responsible for every single freedom we all enjoy, freedom that comes at the highest cost imaginable, human life.

I want everyone reading this to understand that every man or woman killed in a war zone leaves this world while seeing the absolute worst of humanity. The chaos, violence, and horrors of war are so surreal there are no words to describe them.

However, I am going to try.

In 1997, I put a shotgun in my mouth and was ready to commit suicide because of the panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares I was suffering as a result of my service. Only another half pound of pressure and I would have splattered my brains all over the back hallway for my young wife and children to find.

I was having the same flashback daily, always while speaking with someone in conversation. I’d suddenly see an unarmed Iraqi running toward me, causing me to react. I could see every facial feature of this young Iraqi soldier and the fear in his eyes. It was chaos. Then he was dead. I thought I was crazy until it was explained to me that I had PTSD.

Our war never ends; we just compartmentalize what we saw and what we did so we can function and try to make sense of our experiences.

I cannot explain what it’s like to watch artillery barrages or to get in line with Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, knowing the death that was raining down on the enemy and that soon we’d be in the thick of it. The fear is almost paralyzing. Seeing burning or mutilated bodies in real time is so horrifying that “Saving Private Ryan” is a G-rated children’s story by comparison. The smell of gunpowder, the stench of burnt vehicles or of burning bodies stays with us forever. The images are forever imprinted in our minds. There is no escape.


Have you ever seen the result of a high-caliber weapon on a person? You cannot find arms or legs or the head or large portions of the torso sometimes. Mayor Larson and her city of Duluth administrators, I suspect, have not!

The city’s decision to start charging veterans a higher fee so the Memorial Day parade can continue dishonored the more than 1.2 million men and women who have died at our nation’s call. The dishonor was especially to every soldier killed in action and every Gold Star Family in the Duluth area. Showing little apparent care, the mayor and city dishonored every combat veteran and veteran in our community.

My promise is that our veterans community will never again raise one red cent for the Memorial Day parade. We will leave instead and go where we are respected and where our war dead are revered.

John Marshall is captain of the Duluth Honor Guard. He served in the 41st Infantry Regiment in Iraq. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

John Marshall
John Marshall

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