- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Since 1995, Bob Parker has sent nearly 2,000 honorary medallions to families of soldiers, police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

But the Army recently told Mr. Parker that it won’t help him distribute the medals anymore because they include a reference to a Bible verse.

“The denial is based upon the religious content on the medallion. There are some next of kin that may find the inscription offensive to their personal religious beliefs,” Lt. Col. Kevin Logan, chief of the casualty operations division, wrote in one of two letters Mr. Parker received from the Army.

The Marines, Navy and Air Force have continued to provide Parker with names — but only after asking the families if they want to receive the medallions.

Parker’s nonprofit organization Fallen Friend has 17 more medallions ready to send, including one for Pat Tillman, the football player who quit the NFL to become an Army Ranger and was killed in Afghanistan in April.

Mr. Parker, 70, an Army veteran, believes all the families should have a choice to accept the medals or refuse them.

“I will not compromise,” he said. “I told the lieutenant colonel who sent the first [letter] I will go to a higher-up. This will not stop here.”

He says he had never received any complaints about the medallions before and no family has ever returned one.

The gold-colored medallion is inscribed with the words “A Fallen Friend,” the service member’s name and “John 15:13,” for the Bible verse “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

It also bears a picture of hands cupped around a bell with the words “Liberty Rings for All Nations” and “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

“These people die for a choice. That’s what really broke me up,” Mr. Parker said. “The families that would like to have the medallions don’t have the choice to say yes or no. They are denying them the very thing that these people are dying for — freedom of choice.”

The military branches provide Mr. Parker the names of the soldiers, and he sends the medals to the military to be distributed to the survivors.

In April, the Army returned 16 medals he had already engraved. And an April 27 letter from the Army told him each group wishing to send gifts or letters to next of kin must seek approval and fill out a questionnaire.

Mr. Parker returned the questionnaire, and the Army responded with a May 4 letter denying his application.

A spokeswoman for the Army human resources command, Shari Lawrence, said the Army reviewed its practice of helping people send things to survivors and found some items were inappropriate.

“They should have not been sent in the first place,” she said.

The Army receives numerous requests from people who want to send condolences to families and cannot pass along all of them, she said.

“It’s not picking on any person or any particular religion, it’s just a matter of trying to manage a program this huge,” Miss Lawrence said.

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