Rob Burgess

I am proud to tell you on which side my grandfathers stood when confronted with Nazis. They both served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

My paternal grandfather, William Anderton Burgess, was born July 19, 1917. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He died Jan. 22, 1999.

My maternal grandfather, Glenn Garlough Hayes Jr., was born July 3, 1926. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces Cadet Pilot Program, and was a licensed private pilot. He died May 18, 2006.

They, and about 16 million other Americans, fought Nazis. More than 400,000 of them never made it home alive.

Their service was on my mind as I watched the Unite the Right Free Speech Rally, the most violent of the many recent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia; chosen by organizer Jason Kessler due to the Charlottesville City Council’s decision in April to remove Confederate monuments — or, as I’ve heard them referred to: participation trophies.

“A Charlottesville judge says a Confederate statue cannot be touched, for now,” reported WVIR-TV May 2. “Both sides [battled] over an injunction to stop the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue and renaming of [Lee Park, now Emancipation Park].”

Tensions rose late Friday as hundreds of Tiki torch-wielding demonstrators marched through the University of Virginia campus chanting “Jews will not replace us,” “white lives matter” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil.” (They never met a losing cause they didn’t love.) The police eventually declared the protest unlawful.

Airbnb didn’t want anything to do with it.

“Airbnb has canceled a number of accounts and bookings associated with the Unite the Right Free Speech Rally,” reported The New York Times’ Jonah Engel Bromwich Aug. 9.

Tiki Brand similarly wasted no time distancing itself from its new customers.

“Tiki Brand is not associated in any way with the events that took place in Charlottesville and are deeply saddened and disappointed,” stated a Saturday press release. “We do not support their message or the use of our products in this way. Our products are designed to enhance backyard gatherings and to help family and friends connect with each other at home in their yard.”

A state of emergency was first declared at about 11 a.m. Saturday by Charlottesville Mayor Michael Singer. By noon, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe would do the same. Everything boiled over just before 2 p.m. when a silver 2010 Dodge Challenger rammed into a group of peaceful counter-protesters, killing Heather D. Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others.

Of the four people arrested in connection with the rally, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, Maumee, Ohio, was charged and held without bail on one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and hit and run. The Department of Justice announced a civil rights investigation Saturday.

Earlier in the day, Fields had been photographed in full regalia with the fascist group Vanguard America. Even its members sought to distance themselves.

“The driver of the vehicle that hit counter-protesters today was, in no way, a member of Vanguard America,” read a Saturday statement. “All our members had been safely evacuated by the time of the incident. The shields seen do not denote membership, nor does the white shirt. The shields were freely handed out to anyone in attendance. All our members are safe an [sic] accounted for, with no arrests or changes.”

A short time after this domestic terror attack, two police officers responding to the riot were killed.

“A Virginia State Police [Bell 407] helicopter crashed Saturday in Albermale County, Virginia, [7 miles southwest of] Charlottesville,” reported CBS News. “The troopers killed were identified by McAuliffe as Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-pilot Berke M.M. Bates, 40.”

When it was all over, three were dead. Around 40 were injured.

My grandfathers didn’t put their lives on the line 75 years ago opposing Nazis just for me to stand by quietly now that Hitler cosplayers are carrying around lighted party decorations. They fought Nazis then so I could use my voice against Nazis now. My silence today would dishonor their sacrifice.

Rob Burgess, Tribune city editor, may be reached at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com.

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