My family moved to Summit nearly five years ago, and we have been thrilled to settle in a beautiful, well-managed town with a very engaged community.  As a Navy Veteran, I was excited to see the tremendous participation this Memorial Day, with a parade and commemoration on the Village Green that was highlighted by members of both major political parties at our Common Council meeting as a booming success and an emotional milestone as we collectively emerge from under the cloud of COVID-19.

I want to thank everyone who came out for showing how a town can thrive by standing together for something important, but also to ask for help in combating the one negative of the day…. During the festivities, someone chose to circle the Village Green multiple times in a bright red pick-up flying one of the large “Trump” flags that we’ve all see so often.  The result was a disruption to a time-honored tradition (both nationally and locally) of keeping Memorial Day apolitical.  For example, I understand that our local party organizations have a standing agreement to actively participate in the events – both were well represented in the parade – but not to “politic” or “campaign.”

Politics are very important; well-meaning individuals can favor different approaches to solving the same challenges, appropriately leading to passionate debate over competing policies.  But we should always remember, especially on a day specifically designated to recognize military members who've lost their lives, that we are Americans first and foremost.

While I won’t speculate on the driver’s intentions, the specific impact of their actions was to distract and detract from the heartfelt speeches being made, inspiring awards being presented, and the somber ceremony of laying wreaths in honor of our fallen soldiers, sailors, and airmen.  I would have much preferred to be able to fully focus on those I’ve personally lost, among them my Uncle Eugene (who I never met, lost over the Aleutians in WWII, his Purple Heart among my prized possessions), Bill and Dave (two Naval Academy classmates lost in an F-14 crash), and Lisa (a promising young sailor on my small team, murdered by her boyfriend – I will say the hardest thing that I’ve ever done was presenting her mother a flag at her funeral on behalf of the President and Citizens of the United States). 

My request of my community – please stand together as a united Summit, doing what’s best for our friends and neighbors of all stripes, regardless of what transpires in the world around us.  While I took, and continue to honor, a solemn Oath to support and defend our Constitution, including this driver’s right to Free Speech, I also am currently wearing my “A house divided against itself cannot stand” Lincoln quote t-shirt. I deeply believe that we need to respect the values and traditions of both our nation and our “City on a Hill,” through our daily behaviors and a commitment to civility, and I greatly appreciate all of your related efforts!

Thank you Hilltoppers,

Rick Whipple

NJ Chapter Co-Lead, Veterans for Responsible Leadership