U.S. Marine hoists Confederate flag during World War II (photo: WWII in Color)
A widely regarded Southern symbol of pride and states’ rights is standing in the way of would-be Marines in their quest to serve their country – a Confederate battle flag.
Straight out of high school, one 18-year-old Tennessee man was determined to serve his country as a Marine. His friend said he passed the pre-enlistment tests and physical exams and looked forward with excitement to the day he would ship out to boot camp.
But there would be no shouting drill instructors, no rigorous physical training and no action-packed stories for the aspiring Marine to share with his family.
Shortly before he was scheduled to leave Nashville for boot camp, the Marine Corps rejected him.
Now, the young man, who wishes to remain unnamed and declined to be interviewed, has chosen to return to school and is no longer an aspiring Marine.
“I think he just wants to let it go,” said former Marine 1st Lt. Gene Andrews, a friend of the man and patriotic Southerner who served in Vietnam from 1968 through 1971. Andrews is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group of male descendents of Confederate soldiers. He counseled the young man when he decided to become a Marine.
“He had been talking to me, and he was all fired up about joining,” he told WND. “He asked my opinion of it, and I just tried to tell him the truth, good points and bad points.”
When the young recruit didn’t go to boot camp, Andrews learned of his rejection based on his tattoo of the Confederate battle flag on his shoulder.
‘Right now, it’s a flat-out denial’
Current Marine Corps tattoo policy states, “Tattoos/brands that are sexist (express nudity), racist, eccentric or offensive in nature, express an association with conduct or substances prohibited by the Marine Corps drug policy and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to include tattoos associated with illegal drugs, drug usage or paraphernalia, are prohibited. Tattoos/brands that depict vulgar or anti-American content, bring possible discredit to the Marine Corps, or associate the applicant/Marine with any extremist group or organization are prohibited.”
WND contacted the Tennessee recruiting station, and a Marine sergeant explained, “The policy is if a tattoo can be construed by anyone as being gang-related or racially biased, then we can’t accept them.”
VIetnam war heroes hoist Confederate flag (photo: Tears of ‘Nam)
While some extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations have embraced the Confederate flag in the past, the KKK has also adopted the U.S. flag and Christian crosses as symbols. However, many Southerners do not consider the flag an expression of racism or indicator of membership in extremist groups. They regard the Confederate flag as a symbol of state sovereignty and an honorable tribute to the men who fought and died to protect their homeland from invasion by the federalist North.
Asked whether an exception might be made for a Marine recruit who could provide a full explanation on the meaning of his tattoo as an expression of Southern pride, the recruiter explained, “At this point in time, no. If it can be construed by anyone as being racially biased, then right now it’s a flat-out denial.”
He acknowledged that the tattoo is quite popular in the South and that recruitment has been impacted by the ban on Confederate-flag tattoos, but he explained that the policy has been set by Headquarters Marine Corps.
Headquarters Marine Corps has not responded to WND’s requests for clarification of the policy.
However, the U.S. Marine Corps “Guidebook for Tattoo Screening, Volume VII,” a manual that outlines procedures for enlisted recruiting and officer procurement operations, explains, “Users of this guidebook should keep in mind, however, that few symbols ever just represent one idea or are used exclusively by one group. For example, the confederate flag is a symbol that is frequently used by white supremacists but which also has been used by people and groups that are not racist. To some it may signify pride in one’s heritage, but to others it suggests slavery or white supremacy.”
Opening statement in Marine Corps ‘Guidebook for Tattoo Screening, Vol. VII’
‘We’ve seen this before’
Other service members and recruits have dealt with similar issues concerning Confederate flag tattoos and military policy.
(Photo: The Florida Patriot)
The Southern Legal Resource Center, or SLRC, is a nonprofit legal foundation that has handled a number of legal cases involving the Confederate battle flag.
“We’ve seen this before,” SLRC Chief Trial Counsel Kirk Lyons told WND. “This is not a unique situation. We have had instances where people have called who were hassled by Marine military police for having a small Confederate battle flag sticker on their vehicle. We had a Navy recruit who was turned away for having a Confederate battle flag tattoo on his forearm. There was one more incident a couple of years ago where another Marine recruit was refused enlistment because of a battle flag tattoo.”
Lyons said the case of the Marine with a Confederate flag bumper sticker was resolved without legal action because the base commander decided to leave it alone. However, he said most enlistees and recruits don’t pursue legal action or complaints, so the policy is never challenged.
“If a family is not willing to make an issue of it and push it, there’s really nothing we can do because we have to have standing,” he explained.
On the other hand, enlistees often cooperate so their careers don’t suffer, Lyons said.
“They’ve got to keep their mouths shut because they’re very career-oriented,” he said. “You either get with the program, or you’re going to destroy your career. The military is going to fight it tooth and nail. In a lot of cases like this, there’s nobody to support these guys. They’re on their own.”
He added, “Somebody’s got to stand up and say, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.’ If people surrender their rights and just go on, there’s not much we can do.”
‘This is an insult to us’
As for Andrews, he walked into the local Marine recruiting station in Madison, Tenn., that had turned the recruit away. He met a staff sergeant and informed him of his family’s defense of Tennessee during the Civil War and his own service in Vietnam.
“I had thought about it, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt like this is just not right,” he said. “I thought, if we just sit here, we’re going to be slapped around and stepped on forever.”
In a recent commentary posted on numerous blogs, Andrews recounted his experience:
“I informed the young sergeant that my family had defended the state of Tennessee (also his home state) against a sadistic invasion under that flag and to call our sacred flag of honor a ‘hate symbol’ was an insult to all southerners, but especially to those southerners who had risked or even given their lives in service to the Marine Corps. Southerners had served at Belleau Woods, at Tarawa and Iwo Jima, at Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir, and at Khe Sanh and Hue City, but now we are no longer wanted in the politically correct, don’t-offend-any-minorities military?”
The sergeant politely explained that the policy was handed down by headquarters.
Andrews continued, “I asked the sergeant if he had taken out the trash yet. He replied that he hadn’t.
“I then said, ‘Please add these to the day’s garbage,’ and returned my lieutenant’s bars, my gold and silver Marine Corps emblem from my dress blues, my shooting badges and my Vietnam ribbons.
“I, like many of you, have always been told, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,’ and ‘There are no ex-Marines, only former Marines,’ but for me that is no longer true.”
Andrews told WND he was born in the South, raised in the South and will always be a Southerner.
“This is an insult to us,” he said. “We’ve laid our lives on the line in the Marine Corps since there was a Marine Corps. We fought in every campaign that the Marine Corps has been involved in. When I was in Vietnam, there were Confederate flags at every base, every fire-support base over there. Nobody said anything about it. There were state flags, Confederate flags, and it was no big deal.”
Andrews said he is not angry. Rather, he is disappointed in the Marine Corps.
“I thought if it had been a bunch of political hacks or a school board or a local government or some municipality that was pretty spineless anyway, I really wouldn’t have been surprised,” he said. “That happens all the time. But I felt that the Marine Corps had a little more backbone and a little more character than that.”
Asked what he would say to people who believe the Confederate flag represents racism and slavery, he responded, “I’d say they don’t know much about history. Slavery existed under the United States flag much longer than it ever did under the Confederate flag.”
He added, “It’s pitiful to bring up historical topics to some of our young people today. They just stare at you like you’re from outer space. If you’re going to be led around by the nose in this country by the government, if you can’t figure out what’s true and what’s not and what kind of propaganda they’re giving you, that’s a sad situation.”
Cemetery in Lewisburg, Pa., with graves of Union soldiers marked with U.S. flag and grave of Confederate soldier with Confederate flag. (photo: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs)
Confederate flag: Symbol of ‘terrorism’ or independence?
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, recently fought to ban the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. NAACP leaders have said the Confederate flag “supports the evils of slavery” and “represents terrorism.”
However, in his 1999 commentary, columnist Walter Williams argued, “It must be ignorance, an ignorance I once shared. The NAACP crowd sees the Confederate battle flag as a flag of slavery. If that’s so, the United States flag is even more so. Slavery thrived under the United States flag from 1776 to 1865, while under the Confederate flag a mere four years.”
(Re-enactment photo. Source: Politics and Culture)
He explained, “The birth of both flags had little or nothing to do with slavery. Both flags saw their birth in a violent and proud struggle for independence and self-governance.”
Williams noted that the flag naturally symbolizes resentment for those individuals who see the War for Southern Independence solely or chiefly as a struggle for slavery.
“The idea that President Abraham Lincoln waged war against the South to abolish slavery is fiction created by the victors,” he explained. “Here’s an oft-repeated sentiment by President Lincoln: ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.’ Slavery simply emerged as a moral front for northern aggression.”
Williams explained that significant factors that led to the war included states’ rights and tariffs Congress enacted to protect Northern manufacturing interests. He also cited professor Edward Smith, director of American studies at American University, who has calculated that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks served the Confederacy.
“These black Confederate soldiers no more fought to preserve slavery than their successors fought in WWI and WWII to preserve Jim Crow and segregation,” Williams wrote. “They fought because their homeland was attacked and fought in the hope that the future would be better and they’d be rewarded for their patriotism.”
Williams then suggested the NAACP make an effort to memorialize and honor black Confederate soldiers.
Meanwhile, a May 9, 2000, survey by Gallup Poll News Service posed this question to Americans, “Do you, yourself, see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of Southern pride, or more as a symbol of racism?”
A full 59 percent of all respondents said they believe it is a symbol of Southern pride, while only 28 percent saw it as a symbol of racism.
“It’s kind of a hot topic for us right now,” the Tennessee Marine recruiter said of the Marine Corps policy on Confederate flag tattoos. “Personally, I don’t have any problems with it. I have friends, both white and black, who don’t have any problems with it. But there are also those out there who do see it as being racially biased.”