The mother of Air Force captain killed in Iraq is battling the use of her son’s name in “Arlington West,” a protest-exhibit of crosses on a California beach on Sundays by the Veterans for Peace chapter in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Debbie Argel Bastian, mother of slain Capt. Derek Argel, told WND, “I have repeatedly asked the Veterans for Peace to quit using the name of my son in their protests, but I am getting nowhere.”
“The Veterans for Peace won’t listen to me, and they have no right to dishonor my son’s service to the United States of America by using his name in their anti-war protests,” she said.
WND contacted VFP President David Cline by telephone, who said his group’s policy is not to use a name if the family objects.
“We have told our people that if somebody objects to a name being used on one of the crosses, the name should be removed,” he said. “We encourage our newer groups to not put names on the crosses unless people come and ask to have a name put on a cross. When we heard about this problem our national board discussed it, because our purpose is not to cause grief to parents of dead soldiers.”
“What groups like Veterans for Peace do is they make it hard to get your son’s name removed,” she said. “Parents get letters that explain why the protest group has the right to use their son’s name and then the family has to go through a fight. In the end, the group has another chapter who puts up another cross display and uses their son’s name anyway.”
Bastian told WND that Gold Star mothers have a hard time getting the news media to pay attention.
“I was on a CNN morning show, and that was it, no other television news show wanted me,” she said. “But if I was Cindy Sheehan, I wouldn’t have any trouble getting heard. It’s heartbreaking.”
Bastian pointed out Sheehan, who has become an icon of anti-war activism since her son was killed in Iraq, attended the most recent State of the Union address with a shirt bearing the number of U.S. service members killed in Iraq and asking, “Who’s Next?”
“I don’t want my son’s name used like that,” Bastian said. “My son was a loyal and dedicated leader and officer, and he was proud of his military service. From the fifth grade on, Derek determined that he wanted to go to a service academy. The media don’t want to hear Derek’s story, that he was a man of character who was dedicated to the U.S.A. and proud of his military service.
Bastian has been emotionally unable to work since learning of her son’s death.
“I am at the end of my rope dealing with groups like Veterans for Peace,” she explained.
She gave details of the extent of her son’s dedication to the military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan:
The morning her son was killed, she said, he was promoted to captain.
“That would have been the last thing he was thinking about,” Bastian said. “He was on a classified mission, and he just re-upped to continue his military service. Derek was focused on a career in the Air Force. Service to the United States meant everything to my son, and I can’t stand to see his name used on any anti-war memorials or any anti-war protests.”
Bastian said she has a “stack of letters from the families of fallen military heroes who area as upset as I am to see their names used for anti-war purposes and disgraced.”
In the year since her son’s death, Bastian has received hundreds of letters from other family members who have lost loved ones fighting in the Middle East.
“These letters express the same pain I am feeling,” she said.
“These anti-war protesters are like vultures,” Bastian continued. “They wait for any death of a U.S. soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they can’t wait to add the name to their protests.”
Bastian said most Americans are “not aware of the pain these anti-war protesters are causing us.”
“There is only one Arlington, and my son is represented honorably there,” she said. “I do not give my permission to use my son’s name in any ‘Arlington West’ protest.”
In an e-mail to WND, Bastian said she had been also having difficulty scheduling an appointment with her congressman, Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.
“I can’t even get my congressman to hear a Gold Star mother who does not want her son’s name disgraced in anti-war protests,” she told WND.
Bastian is urging her congressman to support a House bill, the “Military Fallen Heroes Protection Act of 2006,” introduced in July by Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., to “direct the Secretary of Defense to prohibit the unauthorized use of names, images and likenesses of members of the Armed Forces.”
Last month, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.
Derek Argel, an Air Force commando, was killed along with three other Air Force men and an Iraqi pilot on Memorial Day 2005 in a crash of an Iraqi Air Force plane on a training mission in the eastern Diyala province.
Argel, a 28 year-old water polo star, was a graduate of Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, Calif., and of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously and was survived by his wife and a young son under 1 year-old at the time of his death.
On Aug. 13, 2005, he was buried at a ceremony in Arlington National Ceremony along with the three U.S. airmen and the Iraqi pilot who died with them. Iraqi Air Force Capt. Ali Hussam Abass Alrubayeye, 34, was the first Iraqi ever buried at Arlington. The four U.S. airmen had been assigned to Hurlburt Field in Florida.