WASHINGTON – At the Naval Station Great Lakes graduation ceremony in Illinois, flag bearers carrying the state flag of each recruit stopped in front of the graduate – raising and lowering the flag in recognition. The families of the recruit shouted and cheered in celebration.
That is except for Seaman Jonathan Rucker’s family, who couldn’t cheer because there was no flag from the District of Columbia at the ceremony.
A memorandum from the Undersecretary of Defense states that military departments are encouraged, but not required to display the D.C. flag and flags of U.S. territories during events.
“While D.C. residents continue to serve their country in every branch of the military, only the Army has acted to ensure the flags of the District and the territories are raised in the nation’s ceremonies and honors,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton released in a statement.
Rucker’s mother, Tomi, says she was disappointed that there was no flag for her son and thought it was unfair.
“There was no recognition for my son’s service,” she says.
In March, Tomi sent a letter to Norton, informing her that the United States Navy failed to recognize the service of her son with the flag of the District, where he was born and raised.
Norton took the issue to heart and wrote to President Barack Obama, asking him to take action so the flags of the District and U.S. territories are included when all 50 state flags are raised during armed forces events and whenever federal agencies and civilian organizations display them.
Speaking before the D.C. World War I Memorial on Veterans Day, Norton honored veterans for their service and also told the Ruckers’ story.
Norton read aloud part of Tomi’s letter, saying Jonathan was prepared “to lay his life on the line for a country that will not acknowledge his service.”
When a young man graduates from one of the services, he should be entitled to have the flag raised in his honor, Norton says.
Besides appealing to the president, Norton is calling on the Senate to pass the 2013 Defense Authorization bill that includes a provision requiring the D.C. flag be displayed by the military whenever flags of the 50 states are raised.
The provision was passed by the House the past two years, but it was dropped from last year’s Defense Authorization bill due to objections from Senate Republicans.
This time, Norton says she hopes that the Senate will not strip the provision.
She says the Ruckers faced unnecessary pain and humiliation that “any American parents would feel if the respective state flag were used to mark each young person’s membership in our armed services, except their flag.”