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Dishonoring our fallen

By Mark Alexander
web posted March 18, 2024

As part of our Mission of Service to the men and women in our Armed Forces, and in honor of many Veterans now serving on our National Advisory Committee, The Patriot Post has become one of the nation's leading advocates for America's military personnel and their mission. As such, we provide millions of Americans with the right perspective on that mission as it pertains to our critical national security interests. Additionally, we fund worthy military and family support groups through Patriot Foundation Trust and Liberty Fund.

On rare occasions, we have engaged military support groups that we believe are misrepresenting themselves or their services or those that lack financial accountability. Ten years ago, that included the Wounded Warrior Project, which at the time was allocating 45% of its revenue to fundraising, salaries, travel, etc. They received low marks from the American Institute of Philanthropy and Charity Watch.

In the years since we exposed this issue, Wounded Warrior has substantially improved their operations, and their rating by Charity Navigator, the nation's largest oversight and review organization for charitable groups, is now a very respectable four stars and 98%.

I take no pleasure, once again, in calling out an organization that serves military personnel and their families.

Six months ago, I came across a social media page named Honoring Our Fallen, which was operated by a nonprofit organization under the same name. The page immediately caught my attention because the latest post was of a commercial aircraft arriving at Los Angeles International Airport under the honor spray arches of fire engines, and many additional photos of honor guard, military, and law enforcement personnel on the tarmac, who followed procedures associated with receiving a combat casualty, the remains of a service person killed in action.

Many reading this have witnessed or seen similar videos of airport honor receptions, with pilots asking for passengers to respectfully remain seated as a flag-draped casket is ceremonially removed from the plane's cargo hold by uniformed personnel, and, with the deceased family, taken by police escort from the tarmac. These solemn receptions are reserved to honor the valor of those killed in action — or should be.

Considering the initial valor reception post I saw, though we are no longer suffering casualties in Afghanistan, we still have Special Forces deployed around the world. Thus, I thought this valor reception might have been for the return of one of those operators killed in action. Or perhaps this ceremony was for remains that had been recovered and returned from a former combat theater.

Maybe the reception was for someone killed in a military training accident.

Since the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation, more military personnel have died in training accidents than in combat. Training for war is a dangerous business.

And recently, there have been several high-profile fatal accidents involving Osprey, Apache, and Blackhawk rotary-wing aircraft.

But oddly, when I researched the name associated with the initial Honoring the Fallen post, there was no service person by that name who had been killed in combat or in training. On further review, I determined that the individual in question was actually killed in a car accident unrelated to his work at a domestic military base. There was no record of this young man having served in a combat theater.

Scrolling further down the page, there were other similar valor reception posts, but none of those were combat casualties. I was not able to identify any recent full military honor receptions at LAX arranged and promoted by Honoring Our Fallen that were associated with a combat death or military training accident.

Instead, in each case, as with the original post that caught my attention, these valor receptions were arranged for young people who had died in non-military related accidents, illnesses, etc., and most in the U.S.

This piqued my curiosity.

The "Honoring Our Fallen" organization is operated by a former civilian public affairs officer for a California training base, Laura Herzog, who, according to the bios provided, "served as the lead for Hero Missions (fallen soldiers returning from Afghanistan & Iraq)" among her other duties. In other words, she arranged local receptions and family services to fittingly honor the valorous actions of those killed in combat during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Thus, I would think that Herzog would be able to clearly distinguish between what constitutes a fitting ceremony for the return of combat casualties and those who died under circumstances unrelated to their military service.

Over the last 40 years, I have both attended and/or been part of the planning for the interment of many military personnel and Veterans, including Medal of Honor recipients. Most were at National Cemeteries. Some of those ceremonies were for warriors killed in action, some were for former POWs, and others were for retired military Veterans who served our nation honorably. I have some sense of what constitutes a fitting ceremonial sendoff for these individuals based on their service.

But most of the Honoring Our Fallen airport valor reception posts do not make clear how the persons they are arranging services for were killed, obscuring whether the airport ceremonies they are providing are fitting for a combat casualty. I have received sparse responses to inquiries regarding the cause of death for the individuals receiving the valor receptions at LAX, but after researching the individuals named in the posts, it is clear that these receptions are not for those killed in combat.

However, the Honoring Our Fallen social media pages do have fitting tributes to service personnel from around the nation, some of whom have been killed in combat, but those posts are mostly unrelated to the honor services provided by this organization.

While virtually all of the organization's social media posts are infused with the word "hero," the generations of warriors I have known who have distinguished combat service records universally reject being called a "hero," though many have clearly done heroic things. In fact, of all the Medal of Honor recipients I have met, none tolerate being called "hero," deflecting that word to those with whom they served. And they have earned the right to apply the word "hero" as they see fit.

The word "hero" is grossly overused today, and consequently, its meaning is diluted when applied to those who have earned it.

It's outstanding that, in their local California region, Honoring Our Fallen supports the families of military personnel and veterans who have died, including the provision of motorcycle escorts to cemeteries and graveside honor guard services. They also organize other services, including flagging local Veteran gravesites and retreats for mothers and widows of the deceased.

Further, I have reviewed their available financial information, which is sparse, but the returns indicate that only a small percentage of their revenue is used for salaries. However, Charity Navigator gives the organization a poor rating, I assume because, like many small organizations, they don't have the staff to provide sufficient reporting.

To be clear, the reason I have contacted the organization in recent months to question their non-combat hero receptions — what they label as "Angel Flights" or "Honor Flights" — is because they have a growing social media following, now 252,000. Those page followers need to know that the public, high-profile hero receptions they are arranging for those who did not perish in combat dishonor our fallen who were killed in action.

In addition to the disruption of airport operations and the allocation of equipment and personnel for those receptions, which the authorities involved may also assume is for a combat casualty, most of those on planes and in terminals witnessing these receptions also assume they are to honor the valorous actions of someone killed in combat. Likewise, that dishonors our fallen who were killed in action.

Before reluctantly writing this assessment, I talked with senior military officers about these posts, and they were not as charitable in their responses. There was discussion equating these honor receptions to stolen valor — not by the deceased or their families, but by the organization arranging it as if it was to honor valorous actions.

I applaud those who honor deceased American military personnel and Veterans, including those whose deaths are unrelated to military service. But Honoring Our Fallen has unfortunately, in my opinion, blurred the lines in terms of valorous ceremonial airport receptions for combat deaths versus those for non-combat deaths, and in doing so, their best intentions aside, they dishonor our fallen.

I hope that moving forward, Honoring Our Fallen will reserve valor receptions for those who have earned them and, for clarity, provide more information in their posts about how those they are serving perished. ESR

Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.

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