Joseph Paradis of Lewiston is a Korean War veteran. He is one of many men who have fought to protect freedom, but who is now not being accorded one of the core freedoms Americans hold dear: the freedom of speech.

Paradis’ freedom to express an idea for honoring wartime dead is being quashed by his fellow veterans. That this man could be silenced in the land of the free is wrong.

Last week, Paradis submitted a bit of news to the Sun Journal’s community news department. He has an idea to erect a replica Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Lewiston’s Veterans Park, an idea he believes will “speak in silence and will complement the many names now on the stones in this honorable park.”

The idea was interesting enough that I plucked it from the community news mix and re-wrote his press release for the Sun Journal’s news pages. I’ve visited the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery a number of times, and thought this idea of a replica monument in Lewiston would fit well within the patriotic spirit that I know exists here.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the political spirit that also exists here and, at least in this instance, veteran politics clashing with patriotism.

I met Paradis for the first time after the news brief ran. He wasn’t happy with how it was phrased, having spent a good part of a day drafting the submission and having hoped it would run as submitted. I wish we could run everything submitted in full, but the Sun Journal receives so many submissions that we, as editors, trim community news items to ensure we give as many community groups the opportunity to share their news. Paradis’ piece was treated no differently.

I thought it was noteworthy that Paradis was thinking ahead to what more could be done for veterans, for no other reason than he believes they are due whatever tributes we can muster. It also shouldn’t surprise that he would think ahead; the park was his idea. Once his idea gained traction, he had enormous support from local veterans groups, but Paradis is the uncontested founder of this visible monument to our veterans.

Now he can’t feel free to express another idea?

Paul Bernard of Turner, chairman of the L&A Veterans Council, said Paradis violated the council’s bylaws by speaking about something that council had not yet discussed. That he violated procedure by going to the newspaper instead of first going to the council. That Paradis, essentially, should keep his mouth shut.

Paradis is not a member of the council, although he has attended council meetings, so he is not beholden to its bylaws and procedures. He is, however, constitutionally entitled to freely express ideas to whomever he chooses, including the Sun Journal.

Bernard further suggested that Paradis’ idea was “never going to happen” because the Veterans Park isn’t a cemetery and it would take an Act of Congress to get approval because only two tombs exist: at Arlington Cemetery and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Actually, there are tombs in Canada, Russia, England, among other places, but that’s not the point.

Paradis is not suggesting actually burying one or more unknown soldiers in Lewiston, but establishing a replica as a monument of respect. It’s not such a far-fetched idea. A traveling Tomb of the Unknowns has made its way across the United States for the past couple of years, stopping in places like Ottumwa, Iowa, and Houston, Texas, so why not a permanent monument in Lewiston? It might even draw visitors to the downtown.

Some years ago, Paradis was told his original idea to establish a veterans park was never going to happen, either, but he’s a dreamer and a doer and he made it happen. It should not surprise — or irritate — anyone to think he might have another idea worth pursuing.

Paradis is nearing 80 years, he is a Purple Heart recipient, a former POW, and a man who collected over 1,400 signatures and 50 letters of support to win the approval of the city council to establish Veterans Park because he has an ongoing and heartfelt mission to honor veterans.

I don’t know Paradis well enough to decide whether he is a likeable guy or not, but who cares? He deserves this community’s respect, and he has an absolute unrefutable right to express an original idea how and to whom he pleases, even if the idea isn’t welcome.

Isn’t that a right all veterans have fought for?

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