“Those kids have every right to protest”: A WWII veteran in Missouri takes a knee — and a stand

On Sunday morning, Brennan Gilmore received a photo of his grandfather John Middlemas kneeling in a garden and staring into the camera from beneath a “World War II Veteran” cap.

Gilmore knew it was a powerful image.

But he had no idea that it would soon become an Internet sensation.

Two nights earlier, at a rally in Alabama, President Donald Trump had told the crowd that NFL players who demonstrate during the national anthem should be fired, condemning their actions as an act of disrespect against the American flag.

The president’s comments were cheered by the crowd. But beyond the rally, they began to snowball into a backlash.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called the comments “divisive.” Players contemplated action. Team owners, including many who had contributed to Trump’s 2016 campaign, criticized the president.

Still, Trump, as he is wont to do, doubled down, railing against athletes who “disrespect . . . our Great American Flag,” saying they “should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

 

 

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem last year to draw attention to police violence against African Americans. He is out of the NFL now, but the debate over his preferred form of silent protest rages on, with the president commenting on it across four consecutive days.

Gilmore, who lives in Charlottesville, said he saw the president’s comments as an attempt to use veterans and patriotism to say people don’t have the right to protest.

Who would have more moral authority than a World War II veteran to speak about what patriotism really means? That’s what Gilmore thought on seeing his grandfather’s photo, taken about 1,000 miles away in Springfield, Mo.

Gilmore tweeted the photo Sunday morning, assuming that it would be seen by his friends and small group of followers, he said.

The message from Middlemas, the nonagenarian war veteran: “Those kids have every right to protest.”

 

Gilmore’s tweet exploded on social media. It has been shared more than 165,000 times, with the number of “likes” topping 400,000.

The rapper T.I. posted the photo to the 20 million followers on his Facebook page, saying: “It ain’t about color, it’s about equality & oppression!!!”

Gilmore’s aunt, Maile Auterson, said that they are a family of Democrats and that her 97-year-old father is no fan of Trump, whom he described as having a “garbage mouth.”

A father of six and grandfather to 32, Middlemas served in the Navy for 21 years, including on submarines during World War II, before settling on a farm in Missouri, according to his family.

The flag is a really big deal to him, Auterson said.

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