Kids, being kids, like to climb on things. More often than not, that’s OK.
But when the thing in question is a war memorial?
That’s the question burning up online parenting groups and in family rooms after an amateur photographer snapped a picture of two children scampering on top of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington.
The photographer, Matt Munson, described the shot on Facebook as “two little brats climbing over war memorial right in front of a veteran.” The parents, he said, were laughing.
“It actually drew a crowd of spectators and the parents realized how evil they were being and quickly took off before I could take a picture of them all,” Munson wrote. “The more I look at this photo the angrier I get.”
He has plenty of company there. As the photo went viral, comment after comment poured in on Facebook and Twitter, chastising the parents for allowing the kids to play on the statue, part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that depicts three women tending to a wounded soldier.
One nurse cradles the wounded fighter while another looks despairingly into an empty helmet. The third looks skyward, to a rescue helicopter or perhaps God, according to the memorial foundation’s website.
In Munson’s photo, a visitor to the memorial seems to grimace at the sight as he pushes an older man in a wheelchair. The older man, wearing a Navy ballcap, and a woman also look on. The children’s parents aren’t shown.
“Disgusting,” Facebook user Trisha Davidson wrote of the children’s actions.
“So wrong,” Twitter user karsonwithak chimed in.
But not everyone was upset.
“I fully take why people can get annoyed and respect that,” Reddit user z3k3 wrote. But the writer said a grandfather who was a veteran of World War II “loved watching the kids pay on the local memorial.”
“He saw it as a way for the next generation to take some joy out of something so terrible and at the same time gave them a link to the past as many would stop to read the names or even get interested enough to read up on the subject a little,” z3k3 wrote.
Fair enough, some said.
But some memorials are meant to be interactive. Others aren’t.
And a statue depicting a nurse caring for a gravely wounded man just doesn’t seem to be the place for play, a Reddit user with the screen name nickfree wrote.
“Unless the memorial is designed to be climbed on — unless the message of the memorial is clearly ‘use me, interact with me, to help carry my message’ (e.g. memorial benches), the default is leave it respectfully alone,” nickfree wrote.
On the Mommyish parenting blog, associate editor Maria Guido wrote that “there’s nothing wrong with children who may not understand how gleefully playing all over a memorial may seem inappropriate to some.”
“If these kids were just doing that — gleefully playing all over a memorial — I wouldn’t find anything wrong with the image, actually. But they’re not,” she wrote.
“These parents were disrespectful,” she wrote. “The kids were being kids and following their directives.”
Though the National Parks Service, which operates the memorial, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund urged visitors to treat veterans memorials — sites of powerful and often emotional pilgrimages for many who served — with respect.
“Please remember to be respectful to memorials honoring and remembering our nation’s veterans,” the group wrote on Facebook. “We hope our visitors understand this moving forward.”