(CNSNews.com) - Anti-war groups and at least one Democratic presidential candidate are planning to hold protests and demonstrations on Memorial Day, a decision that prompted veterans' groups to accuse them of politicizing a day meant to honor fallen American troops.
Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) came under fire earlier for encouraging his supporters to use Memorial Day celebrations as an outlet for an anti-war message. Through a campaign website and videos posted online, Edwards encouraged supporters to "speak out, to gather together, reclaim patriotism."
"Make it clear that we support the troops, we want to honor their sacrifice, that we are incredibly thankful as a nation for what they've done for us and their service in Iraq," Edwards said.
"And the best way to honor their service and the best way to support them is for the president of the United States to do what America has demanded to be done, and that's to end this war," he added.
Several anti-war groups have answered Edwards' call and will hold Memorial Day events to protest the war.
In Austin, Texas, CODEPINK will hold a protest "to mourn the death in Iraq," including the Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the fighting between American troops and insurgent forces.
In Los Angeles, CODEPINK will kick off a week of anti-war action "in honor of Memorial Day." Events include the reading of the names of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians who have died in Iraq. The group will also hold a march that "honors Iraqis who have lost their lives in this devastating war and occupation."
In Washington, D.C., CODEPINK begins a week of "activist summer training" on Memorial Day. The training will prepare women activists to organize demonstrations, lobby Congress, and continue building a "strong women-initiated peace movement throughout the U.S."
In Chicago, CODEPINK will "march for peace" in a neighborhood Memorial Day parade before joining Vietnam Veterans Against the War in a demonstration near the city's Vietnam War memorial.
The OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) Tombstone Awareness group will erect a "sea of tombstones" demonstration near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia over the Memorial Day weekend. The demonstration features thousands of faux tombstones representing the soldiers killed in Iraq.
In Sacramento, Calif., an Iraq war veteran will walk more than 3,400 laps around the State Capitol building to memorialize the soldiers killed in Iraq "and to demand an end to the U.S. war on and occupation of Iraq."
The numerous anti-war events scheduled on or around Memorial Day have drawn the ire of veterans' organizations, which say that the holiday's commemorations should honor fallen American troops, not serve as an opportunity for political statements.
"Memorial Day is a solemn occasion to remember the service and sacrifice of more than one million American servicemen and women who gave their lives to create our nation, to save our Union, and to help free the world from tyranny," Gary Kurpius, president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said in a statement.
"Memorial Day is not a time to call people to protest the war in Iraq under the guise of supporting the troops," he said. "To do so dishonors those who served, those who continue to serve, and to the families who grieve."
In a column about the planned protests, American Legion Commander Paul Morin accused Edwards of "blatantly violat[ing] the sanctity of this most special day."
"Revolting is a kind word for it," Morin wrote. "It's as inappropriate as a political bumper sticker on an Arlington [National Cemetery] headstone."
Blogger "Uncle Jimbo" (retired special operations MSG James Hanson) had harsh words for Edwards.
"We as a nation set aside one day to recognize the ultimate sacrifice made by so many better men than you, and you feel free to push them aside so you can grab some spotlight," he wrote in a posting on the Blackfive blog that also called Edwards a "miserable empty suit," a "girly man" and a "petty little narcissist."
OIF Tombstone Awareness, however, argues that its demonstration is appropriate for Memorial Day. "Honor the warriors, not the war," says one of its prominent banners.
Morin suggested alternative activities for Memorial Day, including visiting a veterans' cemetery, attending a parade "without the divisive political signs," and making cards for soldiers recovering in military hospitals.
"We Americans need to remember why Memorial Day is special," he said. "It's not about picnics or trips to the beach. It's not about making pro- or anti-war statements. It's not about supporting political candidates. It's about honor, duty and the ultimate sacrifice. It's about people who have decided that the United States is worth dying for."
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