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D.C. flag AWOL at military ceremony

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D.C. residents Tomi Rucker and Michael Boyd beamed with pride as their son walked out for his basic-training commencement from the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.

One by one, flags were presented to denote the home states of the recruits, eliciting cheers from pockets of supporters. But Jonathan M. Rucker and his parents saw no flag bearer with the distinctive flag of the District, its three red stars and two red bars on a white background.

"I'm saying, 'This can't be,'" Ms. Rucker said Monday. "There was no flag for the District of Columbia. There was no recognition for my son's service."

Ms. Rucker, a fire investigator with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said she appreciates the Navy as an institution. Her son loves it, too, and lightheartedly asked his mother not to get him into trouble by raising the flag issue after the January event.

But Ms. Rucker and Jonathan's father, a sergeant at the Metropolitan Police Department, took their concerns to D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. They told the story to the District's nonvoting member of Congress, who said the problem was that a legislative provision is required to mandate the appearance of the D.C. flag and those of the U.S. territories whenever the states' flags are flown at military ceremonies.

The fiscal 2013 defense-authorization bill that passed the Republican-led House included the language. But the companion bill in the Senate did not. Similar language was thwarted by Senate Republicans in fiscal 2012, Mrs. Norton said.

So Mrs. Norton and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray held a news conference Monday on the Veterans Day holiday to share Ms. Rucker and Mr. Boyd's experience and to demand that a provision be inserted into the final defense-authorization bill for fiscal 2013 to ensure equal recognition of the city's veterans and men and women in active service.

Mrs. Norton said that, even though a 2013 version passed in the Senate Armed Services Committee without the provision on the D.C. flag, she is hopeful that committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, will use his sway to get it into the final bill. The senator's spokeswoman could not be reached Monday, a federal holiday, for comment on whether the lawmaker will consider Mrs. Norton's request.

The congresswoman also wrote to President Obama, urging him to send a memo that mandates the presence of the D.C. flag alongside the states' flags at federal ceremonies.

The affront, the city officials suggested, goes deeper.

Of all the slights they cite in their push for equal treatment for the District from Congress, snubbing the sacrifices made by generations of city-raised veterans might resonate the loudest, they said. The District suffered in each of the major conflicts of the 20th century, from 243 casualties in the Vietnam War to more than 3,500 in World War II.

"I think when one puts her or his life on the line for their country, it doesn't get any more patriotic, more of a sacrifice, than that," Mr. Gray said Monday as he stood near the D.C. World War I Memorial on the Mall. "To not recognize that our veterans or those who are active-duty should enjoy the same rights and privileges as anyone else really does not represent the best values of this country, in my opinion."

Mrs. Norton and Mr. Gray objected last year when a foundation and Rep. Ted Poe pushed federal legislation to add a national designation to the D.C. World War I Memorial and slightly alter its appearance, so the Great War could be recognized on the Mall alongside those from other notable conflicts of the 20th century.

Mr. Poe, Texas Republican, offered a revamped bill this year to establish a World War I memorial in Constitution Gardens, located north of the Reflecting Pool, although it is unclear whether the plan will run afoul of 2003 legislation that prohibits new commemorative works in the main cross-axis of the Mall.

Some local advocates have called on Congress to use Pershing Park, mere steps from the White House and named for a general from the Great War, as the national memorial.

Mrs. Norton used Monday's occasion to say the existing memorial, located in a shaded area of West Potomac Park and "paid for with the blood and treasure of D.C. residents, will remain exclusively dedicated to the District's World War I residents."

For Ms. Rucker and her family, honoring D.C. residents who serve their country is more personal than preserving a memorial.

"It's just that flag issue is huge to us because we're fourth-generation Washingtonians, and we love this city a great deal," she said.

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