by: Frank Ryan
The Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church’s behavior in demonstrating at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The Court of Public Opinion must hold the demonstrators to a different standard.
Lance Corporal Snyder swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. He died defending the very rights of the people who violated his and his family’s right to mourn.
I too took that same oath.
As a retired Marine Colonel, please allow me to defend my Marine Lance Corporal Snyder in the court of public opinion where I pray he receives a fair hearing.
To deny the family of a slain serviceman or woman a peaceful burial is immoral, despicable, and dishonorable. It is the highest form of hatred imaginable. Whether it is what I saw in Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan or Iraq, the physical violence is horrible but psychological violence leaves scars that only prayer will heal.
I have personally made a casualty call which means that I was tasked with telling a Marine’s family that a terrible tragedy had befallen his family.
Bear with me as I describe for you that moment in the lives of six people that fateful day. May you see through your eyes what I saw through mine.
On that cold November day in the mid 1980’s, I was a young Marine major. At the end of a Marine Corps birthday celebration with the unit I commanded, our First Sergeant and I were notified that a Marine in our area had died in Okinawa. We were given the opportunity and honor of being with one of our brother’s family as the horrific news was delivered.
As we drove the three or so hours to the home of our fallen comrade, the First Sergeant and I talked about how to deliver the news. We were wearing our Dress Blue Marine uniform which was standard when we honor our fallen.
Nothing could have prepared the family for that moment. Nothing could have prepared us.
As we walked to the door of the home in rural, upstate Pennsylvania, a very young child came around the corner scampering with joy to go the door whose door bell had just rung. Recognizing the uniform, he screamed out in joy “Mommy, daddy’s home”. His mother came running to the door excitedly I seem to remember with her two other children by her side. She suddenly stopped dead in her tracks when she saw two Marines and not her loved one. She screamed and the children become totally bewildered and confused by the sudden twist in their young lives.
We took the children and mom to the living room in their home and while fighting back tears, the First Sergeant and I delivered the news to three beautiful children and a horror stricken wife that their loved one would not be coming back home again.
I remembered so vividly the reaction of our brother’s three children.
My mind went back to the day when I watched as a three year old my own dad’s death. As I sat is his lap as he gasped for breath, I knew my life had changed but I did not know how or why. I saw that same fear in their eyes.
Despite the tragedy that befell our Marine family that November day the family had some semblance of closure in the peace and support from their friends and our fellow Marines.
To deny the Snyder’s, my new Marine family, that right to mourn peacefully is a disgrace and dishonor to all Americans.
The Supreme Court may rule that the Westboro Church action was protected speech. I can almost certainly assure you that our Founding Fathers would have felt that they did not need to address this travesty in a document as sacred as our Constitution.
Our Founding Fathers would have told you that common decency did not and could not be addressed in a document. They would have told us that character and honor are in your heart and your soul. They knew that you cannot legislate morality or common decency.
Lance Corporal Snyder died defending the very rights of those who dishonored him and his family.
His reward is in heaven and the knowledge that he will NEVER meet those who picketed his funeral service for the remainder of eternity.
For Mr. Snyder, I can merely say to you, God bless, God speed and Semper fi,
Col. Frank Ryan, USMCR (ret)