Thursday, July 28, 2011

War Widow's Truck Targeted By Vandals

SPARKS, NV - The wife of a Nevada National Guard soldier killed in Afghanistan woke Monday morning to find her husband's truck vandalized.

Sadly, it was only the latest in a series of incidents which have marked Roberta Stewart's life since her husband's death.
The truck was to have been Sgt. Patrick Stewart's coming home gift, a purchase he and Roberta, had planned together.

In 2005, he and Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, both Nevada Army Guardsmen were killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.

Monday morning, the truck he had wanted, the one she bought, now bearing new Gold Star license plates as a tribute to their sacrifice, was parked outside her Sparks apartment, it's windshield smashed by a large brick.

"I feel betrayed. I feel disrespected," says Stewart. "It breaks my heart to think that even teenagers can do something like this to a soldier's family. We've been through enough.

There's more than one reason this particular truck might have been targeted, some more disturbing than others.

Perhaps the most likely reason, a recent confrontation with neighborhood youths who had jumped in front of her truck a few days ago.
The otherwise quiet neighborhood near Reed High School has had a recent history of youth violence and vandalism and fresh graffiti marks the walls of a nearby store.

But there's another more remote, but more disturbing possibility: Roberta Stewart's very public dispute with the Veteran's Administration following her husband's death.

Although the Army recognized Patrick Stewart's religion, it took a lawsuit against the V-A and government intervention to get the Wiccan faith's symbol, a pentacle, placed on his marker at the veterans cemetery in Fernley.

She won that fight, but the marker was vandalized shortly after it was installed.

Roberta has continued to be a vocal advocate for religious tolerance and slain soldiers' families. It's a stance that still stirs strong emotions in some. She still gets angry emails.

She doubts her truck was targeted for that reason, but can't help but wonder.

"We still get things where people don't believe that we have the right to practice religious freedom, so it could have. I can't be the one to answer that, but i would hope not."

One good thing about the incident, she says, is it gives her a chance to draw attention to another powerful symbol, ironically also bearing a five-pointed star.

The gold star license plates, she says are also misunderstood. They were authorized by the 2009 legislature for families who have lost a loved one in the service

"People ask me what they mean," she says. "Older people know about the gold star tradition, but younger people don't."
The next time you see one, she says, she hopes you respond with a honk and a wave and not a brick.


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