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Article published - May 15, 2007
Squabble puts Veterans for Peace at back of Rose Parade
Anti-war group strikes deal with event's board after complaints from American Legion, others

By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT


Sonoma County's Veterans for Peace has been relegated to the rear of Saturday's 113th annual Rose Parade after other veterans groups complained about the organization's anti-war politics.
Dubbed "rabble-rousers" by one mainstream veterans group leader, the Veterans for Peace will be fifth from the end of the two-hour parade, with 84 units separating them from a contingent of seven other veterans groups, including the American Legion and the Marine Corps League.
The arrangement was a compromise, coming after the Rose Parade board of directors initially banned the Veterans for Peace, based on complaints from other veterans, and then relented after the anti-war group appealed.
Rose Parade manager Judy Walker said her group, an independent nonprofit, got caught in a squabble between veterans factions.
"I don't think we started any of this," she said. "This should be a parade that celebrates community."
Ted Sexauer, co-president of the 40-member Veterans For Peace Chapter 71, Sonoma County, said he proposed the separation to avoid a confrontation.
"Our goal is to be seen as reasonable," he said.
But Sexauer, a Vietnam War combat medic, said he was not surprised by the flap and some members of his group were less inclined to be diplomatic about it.
"We're much different from the other veterans groups," he said. "It's not surprising they're hostile to us -- some of them."
Sexauer said his national group, founded in 1985, advocates impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Other veterans say the group has a "political agenda" they consider inappropriate, and that two years ago, a man in the Veterans for Peace's Rose Parade group wore a Navy-style peacoat with several military medals incorrectly displayed and possibly not earned.
"They were an insult," said Tom Poulter of Santa Rosa, national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Poulter's group is skipping Saturday's parade but has no qualms about returning next year, as long as the anti-war veterans march apart from the others.
"I myself would call them rabble-rousers," said Jack Pressey, adjutant of Santa Rosa's American Legion Post 21, which will march Saturday. "They don't want us to be involved in any war."
Pressey, who served in the Navy during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, said the American Legion and other groups are "for the veterans -- period."
Sexauer said his group is no stranger to theatrics for a cause it espouses.
"Sometimes we are outrageous, and we intend to be," he said. "There's a time for jumping up and down."
Veterans for Peace polled its members to ask if anyone wore inappropriate medals and got a negative response.
"We don't believe that to be the case," Sexauer said.
Poulter said it is against federal law to wear unearned medals for valor.
Several veterans groups complained about the Veterans for Peace's participation in the parade, and at least one group threatened a boycott if the anti-war group was included in the lineup of about 130 entries, Walker said. She declined to name the groups Monday, saying that decision would have to be approved by the board.
The Rose Parade's 12-member board initially decided to bar Veterans for Peace, she said, calling the boycott threat "an us-or-them kind of thing. It's not fair."
In a letter to The Press Democrat, Sexauer chastised the other groups for acting "in such a coercive, unforthright manner" and for not addressing the group directly.
"Not righteous, guys," he wrote.
But the parade board relented, approving Sexauer's separation offer.
"That's where we figured we're in the right," Walker said.
The parade reserves the right to exclude anyone whose entry depicts violence, drugs, illegal activity or anything "otherwise deemed inappropriate."
But policing for unauthorized military medals would be problematic, given the festive costumes of the day.
"They dress up; it's a parade. We wouldn't want to monitor that," Walker said.
Pressey said the separation was a reasonable compromise.
"The people who put on the parade are trying to appease everybody," he said.
You can reach Staff Writer
Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.
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