There’s a museum at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama with the goal of showing what the men and women of the service have achieved and sacrificed over the decades. A couple of months ago, some visitors noticed a display of an airman standing next to a Christian flag (a white cloth with a blue cross on it). It also included a sign explaining what that was all about.
“This Christian Flag is significant because it was rescued from the ruins of an American Chapel that ultimately found itself situated in the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. In 1960, a young A1C Luke Holcomb, was assigned to the post along the Demilitarized Zone. From his duty section he could see what remained of the chapel and was fascinated by the site [sic] of the U.S. and Christian flags leaning against the rear corner of the building. One night, he and three friends swam across the river separating them from the chapel, and at the risk of death, they liberated the flags. It was his wish that this flag be displayed in dedication of the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who risked their lives during the Korean Conflict.”
There were two problems with that display. The first was that it suggested that a Christian flag was an appropriate symbol for all the military personnel in the Korean War. (We saw a similar situation like that when the 9/11 museum in New York City was going to include a display featuring steel beams in the shape of a Christian cross that were found in the wreckage. American Atheists said it was government promotion of religion, but the courts said the display had “historical significance” and wasn’t intended to promote religion.)
The other issue, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Senior Research Director Chris Rodda, was that the history of the flag, as explained in the sign, wasn’t accurate. It couldn’t be. There were obvious flaws in the story.
For this flag to have been retrieved in 1960 would mean that it had been sitting outside in the elements for seven years, since the DMZ was created in 1953. A flag made of natural fibers, as a flag of that era would have been, would already have started to rot away after just a few years of being left outside, where, among other things, it would have been constantly wet during Korea’s yearly typhoon season with its average rainfall of 14 or 15 inches a month. After seven years in these conditions it wouldn’t even have been recognizable as a flag. And yet the flag in the exhibit is in pristine condition, right down to its fringe. There was also the problem of its not even being the right type of flag that a chaplain would typically have had in a war zone. And, besides the issues with the flag itself, we were told by experts on the history and geography of the DMZ that there was nowhere that an airman would have been stationed in 1960 that would have been anywhere near a place where they could have swam across the river, let alone seen a flag from across the river.
A few weeks ago, MRFF wanted pictures of that display since there was still a possible legal challenge in play here, and they noticed something else: The sign had been placed back in the display case. No changes had been made. The story was still very, very dubious.
Then, the conservative legal group ACLJ (headed up by Donald Trump‘s attorney Jay Sekulow) stepped into the fray by urging members to sign a petition to “Defend the Chaplain Flag & the Cross.” Their version of the story ignores all the discrepancies Rodda pointed out and includes a tangent about orphans that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. The ACLJ concludes with this:
The display at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base does not deliver a religious message or a Christian agenda. It is about two brave and dedicated men, who happened to be Christians, and how they beyond the call of duty to save lives while serving in an active combat zone. Their sacrifice and their heroic action demand our continuing support.
That, as Rodda explained in tremendous detail, is bullshit.
So why is the sign back up? Why is the Christian flag still in the display case? Rodda says she tried contacting CMSgt Emily E. Shade, who agreed, months ago, that there were problems with the sign, but she’s no longer getting a response:
CMSgt Shade has not responded to the email I sent her over a week ago requesting an explanation for the return of this dubious story that she herself had agreed seemed inaccurate to the Enlisted Heritage Hall museum.
So much for CMSgt Shade’s statement in her October email that: “We strive to make the exhibits historically accurate and appreciate when inaccuracies are found, so that integrity of the displays is maintained.” It now appears that a display that has about as much “integrity” as Jay Sekulow and his ACLJ is acceptable in this official U.S. Air Force museum.
The Air Force has enough to deal with. The last thing they need to do is act as a marketing tool for the Christian faith.
You can read Rodda’s full account of this story right here.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)