Soldiers’ mugging around empty casket sparks furor

MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin National Guard announced Tuesday that it had suspended a member from honor guard duties after she apparently posted to social media a photograph of soldiers mugging around an empty, flag-draped casket.

The group photograph taken at a National Guard training facility in Arkansas sparked a furor on Facebook, in military chat rooms and other social media, where people saw it as disrespectful of veterans and those killed in action. The National Guard said it was taking steps to protect the soldier who posted the photograph after she received death threats.

The photograph originally posted on Instagram shows about a dozen soldiers clowning around a casket draped in a flag. Several hug playfully. One flashes a peace sign. Another has his back turned and is pointing off in the distance.

The caption reads, “We put the FUN in funeral— your fearless honor guard from various states.”

The photograph was posted from an account belonging to Spc. Terry Harrison, of the Madison, Wis.-based 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, according to the National Guard. That account has since been closed, but others have reposted the picture and Harrison’s comments on multiple social media sites.

Judy Vincent, of Poteau, Okla., said she saw the picture when a friend reposted it on Facebook.

“It was like somebody slapped me in the face. I’ve never in my life seen such disrespect for the fallen or the families,” said Vincent, whose son died in Iraq in 2004.

Marine Cpl. Scott Vincent was killed near Fallujah by a suicide bomber. His mother said Vincent’s friends served as his honor guard and she has no doubt that he was treated with respect. But she knows the photograph has raised doubts among other families.

“It raises questions in your mind,” Judy Vincent said. “What did they think of me and was my loved one treated with disrespect?”

Vincent was among the more than 900 people to post comments on the Wisconsin National Guard’s Facebook page, most of them asking for Harrison and the other soldiers to be disciplined.

Harrison, a full-time member of the National Guard, has been suspended from Wisconsin’s honor guard and assigned to other duties while an investigation is ongoing, said Maj. Paul Rickert, the Wisconsin National Guard’s director of public affairs.

Wisconsin officials also have notified the National Guard Bureau because the other soldiers in the photograph were from other units, Rickert said. The National Guard Bureau did not immediately return a message left for comment.

Attempts to reach Harrison by phone and email were unsuccessful. The National Guard has taken steps to protect her after she received death threats through social media and other means, Rickert said.

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