A St. Peters city alderman criticized for using parking spaces designated for Purple Hearts recipients said the city has been “insensitive” to other combat wounded or disabled veterans who haven’t received the medal.
Alderman Michael Shea [Ward 3] posted a notice on a website responding to criticism about parking his vehicle in some of the five parking spaces the city designated for Purple Heart recipients, an occurrence that has taken place since last July. Shea was roundly criticized by local veterans who came before the St. Peters Board of Aldermen’s June 22 meeting and asked that the city correct the situation.
The Purple Heart is a U.S. military decoration awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are wounded by an enemy combatant or those who are killed or died of wounds received in action.
Shea, a retired 21-year U.S. Army veteran with combat tours in Vietnam and southwest Asia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, declined to comment at the time. But last month, Shea posted comments on a website about the use of the spaces, which are painted purple and each marked with a sign bearing the Purple Heart logo and the words “combat wounded.”
“It took 14 months for someone to make a really BIG deal about parking at city hall. Not the handicap or the regular spaces but the spaces marked ‘Combat Wounded,’” Shea wrote. “Well, I am ‘combat wounded,’ I just don’t have that medal that is given to those veterans who have suffered gravely at the hands of our enemies.”
Shea said in a later interview that he like other servicemen were exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant widely used during the Vietnam War era and suspected of widespread health impacts. He wrote on the website that the board is now “correcting the record” with a resolution so that other recognized disabled veterans that served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam or the Gulf War don’t park there.”
The board is considering a resolution later this month officially designating the parking spaces for Purple Heart recipients. The city designated the spaces last year but didn’t pass a resolution or ordinance to making those designations official. Even with a designation, the city may have limited authority to enforce the designation.
“Why is the city being so insensitive to the many veterans who sacrificed their health and committed their efforts for our country, not to speak of their families and descendants?” Shea asked in his written statement.
He wrote that it might because most of the board members never served in a combat theater and endured environmental and biological effects particularly in Vietnam and the Gulf War, including a high rate of suicide. “They surely would be considered ‘wounded,’” he noted. “Many came back with a death sentence.”
He added, “I am deeply disappointed the city is totally ignoring and disregarding the many combat wounded and disabled veterans that live in our community.”
In the interview, Shea said a lot of the discussion and debate was skewed and taken out of context. “There is a lot more about this than just a parking space,” he said. ”It’s very simple, the sign says for combat wounded, it doesn’t say Purple Heart, it says combat wounded.”
He said the designation doesn’t take into account veterans from other wars who may have been disabled or hurt in many ways.
“We’re ignoring those veterans for a small handful of veterans with combat wounded. Let’s make sure that we understand these parking spaces are for everybody,” he said. Shea said some businesses are going that route, designating spaces for “wounded warriors or disabled veterans.”
“That’s so simple yet it’s inclusive of all the guys or gals who have gone through combat,” he said.
He said aldermen knew he was using the space before it came up in debate. But whether it comes up for further discussion remains uncertain, he said. Shea stepped out of the board’s July 27 work session where the resolution was discussed.
Alderman Teri Violet [Ward 3], who also is a veteran, suggested designating the spaces last May.
“We’re not trying to dishonor anybody, we’re just trying to honor our Purple Heart recipients,” Violet said in an interview last week. “We’re a Purple Heart city and that’s the reason I did it.” The city was designated a Purple Heart city in a proclamation from a veterans group in 2013. Other cities are also designating parking spaces in the same way, she said. “When it comes down to it this was how I delivered it last year. This is what was voted for. There should be no confusion. He [Shea] got caught.”