Wis. Guard soldier suspended over funeral photo

A screenshot of the controversial Instagram photo.
A screenshot of the controversial Instagram photo.

APPLETON - Funeral photo furor over a picture was taken in front of an empty casket at a training session for soldiers.

It involves a member of the Wisconsin National Guard's Honor Guard. The photo is causing outrage on social media and it is drawing mixed reactions from some local veterans.

As they do at the funeral for any fallen soldier, members of Appleton's American Legion and VFW posts are there to honor that service member.

"We did one yesterday in Mackville in the middle of that snowstorm outside, it was cold. We do them in below zero weather, when it's hot, raining, snowing, we don't care," said Appleton American Legion Post 38 member Ray Gass.

Gass has been a part of the American Legion's Honor Guard for years. And he says the picture posted by a member of the Wisconsin National Guard is disgraceful. The photo posted by Specialist Terry Harrison, a Guard member based in Madison, shows a group of soldiers in light-hearted poses while gathered around an empty, flag-draped casket at a training center in Arkansas.

"I think that was very disrespectful, if they wanted a picture to project what they do, then they should have done it in uniform in a respectful way."

In another photo, Harrison infers the cold weather will mean a poor flag presentation at a soldier funeral. But not all veterans we spoke to have a problem with the pictures.

"If they had a chance to have a light-hearted moment I have no problem with it, because if you watch these veterans here that are going to play the bugle and fold the flag, they are 110 percent as serious as you could ever imagine," said Wayne Martin, a member of Appleton's VFW Post 2778.

Many people have taken their thoughts to social media. Comments on the photos have flooded the Wisconsin National Guard's Facebook page. And Wisconsin National Guard Director of Communications Maj. Paul Rickert says they won't stop people from expressing their frustration over the conduct of the soldiers.

"The Wisconsin National Guard takes our responsibilities for our fallen soldiers very seriously and we expect all our soldiers who carry out that detail to handle it with professionalism and honor."

The Guard says Harrison has been receiving death threats and has been temporarily reassigned to other duties during the investigation. A reassignment some hope becomes permanent.

"None of us would even think of that, we have 25 members of our funeral Honor Guard and we would never do anything like that. We're more respectful because it's the right thing to do," said Gass.

The head of the Wisconsin National Guard also said in a statement Tuesday he was appalled by the photos and promised a swift investigation.