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Memorial Day plan to unveil statue criticized

Some veterans believe unveiling a statue on Memorial Day is insensitive because the subject was loyal to England during the Revolutionary War.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Maj. Robert Rogers, the frontiersman whose 18th century manual on guerrilla warfare has become a blueprint for Army Ranger fighting tactics, is getting what some consider a long-overdue honor: a statue in his memory.

But some veterans believe unveiling the monument on Memorial Day is insensitive because Rogers was loyal to England during the Revolutionary War.

“I think it’s a travesty that we would think about honoring a person, especially someone who fought against us, on that day,” said Bob Bearor, who served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in the 1960s. “It’s a sacred day. ... Let’s honor our dead who died for our country.”

The life-size bronze statue is scheduled to be unveiled during a ceremony on Rogers Island in the Hudson River, 40 miles north of Albany. The island served as the base camp for Rogers’ Rangers during the late 1750s, when the British and French fought for control of North America.

'Standing orders'
The statue will stand near the site where Rogers penned “Rules of Discipline,” a common sense guideline for battling the French and their Indian allies in the North American wilderness in 1757. Also known as Rogers’ “Standing Orders,” the rules have been boiled down over the years from 28 to 19 and are still used to train soldiers at the Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga.

Rule No. 1 of Rogers’ manual, popularized and paraphrased in the novel, “The Northwest Passage,” is, “Don’t forget nothing.” Another rule, No. 15, is “Don’t sleep beyond dawn. Dawn’s when the French and Indians attack.”

Although some veterans say they have no qualms with the Rogers statue, Bearor and others say they are upset over a local developer’s plans to unveil the statue Monday, when the nation honors its war dead.

Bearor says Rogers, a New Hampshire-born frontiersman who led his Rogers’ Rangers on guerrilla raids for the British during the French and Indian War, turned against his fellow Americans in the Revolutionary War.

Timing in question
But organizers of the May 30 event defend the timing, saying that holding it on the holiday allows the greatest number of local dignitaries and the public to attend.

The local newspaper, the Post-Star of Glens Falls, has editorialized against the Memorial Day ceremony, but some veterans aren’t so vexed. “I don’t see any problem,” said Harold Murray, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Glens Falls. “That’s going quite a ways back in history.”

Richard Fuller is caretaker of the private portion of Rogers Island where the statue will stand. The property is owned by retired construction executive Frank Nastasi of Syosset. Both men are veterans and neither believes that holding the event on Memorial Day shows disrespect for America’s war dead, Fuller said.

But the head of a group of former and active-duty Rangers argues the although tribute may be well-intended, it is problematic.

“Memorial Day? They’re not thinking that through,” said retired Army Capt. Steve Maguire, president of the U.S. Army Ranger Association. “It just seems like I would try a different day.”

Military legacy
Although he doesn’t deny Rogers’ military legacy, Bearor, a French and Indian War re-enactor and author of several books on the conflict, questions holding a Memorial Day tribute to a man who George Washington didn’t trust.

Fearing Rogers was a British spy, Washington turned down his request to join the Continental Army at the outset of the American Revolution. Rogers went on to raise a company of loyalist rangers, but failed to have the impact he had in the previous war. A heavy drinker, he died a pauper in England in 1795 and lies buried somewhere beneath the streets of London.

“Even the English don’t look at him as a hero,” Bearor said. “They buried him in an unmarked grave.”

Controversy aside, a tribute to Rogers is long overdue, said Stephen Brumwell, a British author whose latest book, “White Devil,” details the most famous exploit of Rogers’ Rangers: the 1759 revenge raid on an Abenaki Indian village in Quebec. The raid that inspired the 1826 novel “The Last of the Mohicans,” by James Fenimore Cooper.

“He earned his statue the hard way,” Brumwell said in a telephone interview from his home in the Netherlands. “While others were sitting out the French and Indian War in Boston and New York, he was leading patrols into enemy territory, often in the very depths of winter.”