Not to detract from Roberta Stewart, Selena Fox, Pete Pathfinder or anyone else but I don’t think all that many people know of the real force behind the entire push to ge the VA to recognize the Pentacle. After all, outside of the Mid-Atlantic region Rosemary Kooiman was not that well known.
For many years Rosemary had been married to Abe, an absolutely wonderful man who was a mainstay of the Pagan community. Not that many of his Pagan friends knew, though, that Abe had not only served but served bravely in World War II, from Normandy to Germany, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, along with his prized “CIB” along the way.
I knew Abe and Rosemary slightly but our paths didn’t cross all that often, mostly at events like Sacred Space, Ethericon, Free Spirit Gathering, etc. I had been getting more and more involved in the idea of pressuring the VA to accept Pagan symbols and was completely prepared to make it a major speaking point when I appeared at Blessed Be and Merry Meet in DC II (talk about a mouth full – most of us just called it alphabet soup).
I never made that presentation because just a week before the event I received an email from a well known Druidess that the entire matter had been settled and that there was no longer any problem. this, of course was totally incorrect.
Anyway, when Abe passed away about a year later and Rosemary wound up running into a stone wall at the Department of Veterans Affairs she contacted me. That was the beginning of a partnership that helped to change the Pagan community but more about that in another post.
Rosemary and I started working together, contacting the VA and running into the quicksand that passed for veterans benefits. We learned that there had been applications dating back over five years, the first being filed by the Isis Invicta Military Mission. And we found out that despite the VA’s own requirements that all applications had to either be approved or rejected within 24 months, not a single one of the several dozen applications that had already accumulated had ever been acted on. Each and every one of them had either been filled out incorrectly, documentation was missing or the applications themselves had mysteriously disappeared.
Now Rosemary was not that imposing to look at but believe me, she made hurricanes stop in their paths and earthquakes stop by her sheer force of will; she was amazing. And together, between her incredibl energy and my deviousness, we started what became the Pagan Veterans Headstone Campaign.
Knowing beforehand that internet petitions are completely ineffective, we started one anyway, as a way to get the word out to the Pagan community about the inequalities of the VA. Then we started online letter writing campaigns, the hardcopy letter writing. I set up the PVHC group on Yahoo and soon found a few other Don Quixotes out there, people like Eric Roberts and several others, many of them veterans themselves who were outraged.
We began flooding every Pagan group on Yahoo with information, getting myself and several others booted and banned from over a hundred different Pagan elists for our anti-spiritual, political, negative stances.
Finally, after about five years, Rosemary and I took a very serious step, we went to Arlington National Cemetery together and placed a vinyl pentacle exactly the same size as the engraved symbol we wanted, on Abe’s headstone.
This doesn’t sound like very much I know but think about it for a minute. This woman, already in 70 years old, went onto Federal property, property where any kind of demonstration was banned, and desecrated the headstone of an American veteran. If the Federal government had wanted to, and had been able to convict us, the combined sentences each of us could have faced would have been more than 75 years in prison.
We weren’t arrested, even though we were prepared to be, probably because it was only the two of us. This wasn’t a big demonstration, it had never been planned to be. After all, this was Arlington, probably one of the most sacred pieces of land in this country – we respected it and each and every one of those buried there. But we were sick and tired of Abe being treated like he didn’t matter so we acted.
The groundswell of support withing the Pagan community built but Rosemary and I still couldn’t get very many of the more well known Pagan authors to support with the exception of Isaac Bonewits, who had supported us from the very beginning. That was when we began challenging these folks, the ones who make most or all of their income from Pagans, to either support us or we would boycott them.
It was about two and a half years later that the VA finally gave in and that was a great day but, for me, it was also tinged with sadness. Rosemary Kooiman had passed away about six months earlier so she wasn’t around to see Abe’s headstone replaced with a new one, this one with a Pentacle.