WASHINGTON - Freshman Congressman Bill Enyart (IL-12) is proud that he stood alone against allowing military chaplains to serve fellow servicemen and their families during the government shutdown drama in 2013. Enyart said at the time he was objecting to congressional hypocrisy, and that his vote was largely symbolic.
In October 2103, Enyart told the Military Times that when other military base services were shut down, he didn't see why chapels and religious services should have been active. However, every other member of Congress disagreed with Enyart and called for weddings, baptisms and worship gatherings to continue despite the shutdown.
Though the non-binding resolution passed Congress, Democrat Senate Leader Harry Reid never scheduled it for a vote. And when the 2014 budget deal came together, all religious services and chaplain duties returned to normal.
This week, the veterans of the 12th district sent Enyart - a former National Guard general appointed to the rank by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich - a strong message: they have not and will not forget that vote on H.R. 58.
"As veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, we are writing to express our extreme disappointment with your comments and actions regarding military chaplains," a letter sent this week to Enyart said.
"We demand you apologize to the military chaplains whom you tried to keep from doing their job and for your disparaging comments in the St. Louis Post Dispatch."
Earlier this week, Enyart opened old wounds when he told the Post-Dispatch that his vote against reinstating the funds for militiary chaplains was "his proudest moment" as a freshman lawmaker.
"It is shocking and appalling that you were the only member of Congress to vote 'no' and it is beyond disappointing that you are proud of that fact," the letter says.
Enyart has yet to respond to the veterans' July 15th letter.
H.R. 58's author and sponsor, Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia, served as an Air Force chaplain in Iraq. He criticized Enyart's vote as lacking principle and compassion.
"Congressman Enyart's comments are disgraceful. In a moment when Congress was bitterly divided, Members of Congress from all walks of life and all over the country came together in defense of religious freedom for our military out of both principle and compassion," Collins said. "It's a shame that Congressman Enyart is proud of the fact that in that moment, he possessed neither."
State Rep. Mike Bost, who is challenging Enyart for the 12th CD seat in November, is appalled at Enyart's comments and lack of remorse.
"Congressmen Enyart's is so 'off the mark' on military chaplains, how can he continue to 'defend the indefensible'?" Bost told Illinois Review Wednesday. "At some point, he should just admit he was wrong and issue a sincere apology to the veterans of the 12th District and Illinois. Our men and women deserve better."
Bost, who served in the U.S. Marines himself, is one of several veterans in the Illinois House. His House colleagues, State Reps. David Harris and Wayne Rosenthal are on the list of 36 veterans that signed the letter calling for Enyart's apology.
The 36 letter signers included:
- David Harris, Major General (Ret.), USA.
- Wayne Rosenthal, General, IL Air National Guard.
- Ron Stephens, SGT, USA, Vietnam Veteran, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
- Christian Falconer PFC, USMC.
- Steve McRae, Staff Sergeant, Air National Guard.
- Bob Elmore, Specialist, National Guard.
- David George Specialist E4, USA.
- Joe Dean Stritzel, Army, Spc.
- Frank Henry, MS/E5, US Navy.
- Jeff Rose, SSG, Army National Guard.
- Phil Henning, Lt Col (Retired), USAF.
- Zachary A. Jones, Sr. Airman E4, USAF.
- James W. Jones Jr., EOCN, US Navy Seabees.
- Jared A. Jones, Sr. Airman E4, USAF.
- Charles McClure, 1SG, USMC.
- Roger Alons, Major (Retired), USA.
- Darrin Baskin, SN/E3, US Navy.
- Kim Whitehead, SN/E3, US Navy.
- Charles "Chuck" Hanfelder, Corporal, USA.
- Noah Finley, OEF Veteran, USA.
- Joey Avellone, Lance Corporal (Retired), USMC.
- Richard Hunter, PN2, US Navy.
- Richard Klaine, Fire Controller 1st Class, US Navy.
- DeMarius Hill, P3, National Guard.
- Gregory Jorden Layne, Corporal, USMC.
- Bobby Joe Woosley, RM3, US Navy.
- Aaron Wright, Sergeant E5, USA.
- John Shively, SGT, USA
- Jim Slusser, SPC E5, USA
- Dick Bold, SGT, USA. Vietnam Vet, and Purple Heart Recipient.
- Rick Mann, SGT E-5, USA.
- Danny Bold, Chief Petty Officer, US Navy (Retired).
- Phillip Chapman, Captain, USA.
- Lester W. Smith, Specialist E-5, USA
- James Rubush, Lt. Col. (Ret), USAF.
- Terry Carroll, Technician E-3, USAF.