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Simple Respect for Our Veterans of the District of Columbia and the US Territories

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. NORTON. Madam Speaker, as we end the 112th Congress, we are faced with two crises: the fiscal cliff crisis; and now a gun crisis and a mental health crisis, that comes to us from Newtown, Connecticut. When you consider that this is a Congress which has not been able to handle even minor issues, much less crises, one begins to wonder whether we will live up to what is required of any person who is a Member of the United States Congress.

This morning, I come for something less than a crisis for the country, something far easier to solve. I am calling on the Defense Authorization Conference Committee to solve a simple noncrisis problem, a problem, though, that casts shame on our treatment of our active-duty military, our veterans, and their families.

Thanks to Chairman Buck McKeon and Ranking Member Adam Smith, the House passed Defense Authorization bill contains a simple provision. That provision says that when you raise the flags of the 50 States at military ceremonies, if you're raising or displaying the flags of the 50 States, you must also display the flags of the District of Columbia and the five territories.

The territories and the District have always served disproportionately in war, but what we are asking for today and what the House bill provides is the simple respect that anyone who wears the uniform and any family member of that active military person or veteran is entitled to.

I thank the House for recognizing that in some matters all of us are certainly equal. We are all equal in according respect for members of our military. I've spoken with Senator Levin, the chair of the Defense Authorization Committee, and am convinced that he is for this provision. I have spoken to the White House at the highest levels, and I have asked all concerned to simply recede to the House provision.

For reasons that escape us all, the Senate removed this provision when the House, last year, put it in the Defense Authorization bill. It would be impossible to remove this provision if the Members of the Senate, who are responsible for doing so, could have heard from our veterans who went to speak to the staff of Senator McCain and Senator Levin and told of their own experience. There was the colonel who said that when he was welcomed home from the Gulf War, the flag of every State was raised, but not the flag of the District of Columbia. There was the mother who wrote me, Tomi Rucker, to say that she and the father went to the graduation of her son from Navy boot camp Great Lakes Naval Station full of pride, and as each graduate's name was called, the home state flag was raised, but no flag for Jonathan Rucker of the District of Colombia when his name was called. The colonel's son, who came back three times from war, a combat veteran in Iraq, and each and every time the flag of the District of Columbia was not raised as the flags of others were.

And my colleagues from the territories have come forward with equally heartbreaking stories. This, my colleagues of the House of Representatives, you can solve, you can solve this very day, and my colleagues in the other body need only follow your lead.

The Defense Department some months ago issued a memorandum that said that raising the flags should be done at the discretion of the commander. Well, it wasn't at the commander's discretion that our young men and women volunteered to risk their lives for their country. And would such a memorandum have been put forward to say that the commander could decide whether to honor the flag of Virginia or Maryland, to take my closest neighbors, when their veterans came home? What is the difference between their veterans who have gone to war and the veterans of the District of Columbia?

There are very few ways to honor our veterans. We honor foreign dignitaries by raising their flag. The least we can do is to honor our own military, our veterans and their families, by raising the flags of their home district or territory.

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