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Amos sorry for Marine use of Nazi SS logo

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Feb 10, 2012 15:15:03 EST

Commandant Gen. Jim Amos has ordered an investigation of the scout sniper community’s usage of the notorious Nazi SS organization’s logo after a platoon in Afghanistan displayed it with the U.S. flag.

The logo was depicted on a flag in a photograph of a scout sniper platoon taken in September 2010 in Helmand province’s Sangin district. The Marines were with Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and are shown sitting in combat gear with the U.S. flag and a blue flag with the stylized letters in the “SS” logo hanging behind them.

“On behalf of the Marine Corps and all Marines, I apologize to all offended by this regrettable incident,” Amos said.

The incident has brought scrutiny to a longtime practice in the scout sniper community. Its members have used the “lightning bolt” SS logo for years on patches, posters and tattoos, a nod toward their title. The position is exclusive to the Corps; the Army has scouts and snipers, but separates their duties into two occupations.

The commandant said Friday that he has directed commanders to investigate the prevalence of the SS logo and other unauthorized symbols within the reconnaissance and sniper communities and for Training and Education Command, out of Quantico, Va., to review scout sniper school training to ensure it is clear the logo’s use is banned.

Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett, the Corps’ top enlisted Marine, will meet personally with every senior staff noncommissioned officer in the sniper community in coming days to “reinforce my message and expectations,” Amos said. Barrett served as a scout sniper during the Gulf War, and later designed sniper training for Marine units in Iraq.

The controversy erupted Thursday after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation distributed the flag photograph and another image from 2004 showing a Marine posing with a 7.62mm M40 sniper rifle inscribed with an “SS,” leading to widespread media coverage. The Corps acknowledged that the inspector general at Pendleton’s I Marine Expeditionary Force was made aware of the “SS” flag photograph in November.

The incident was found not to be racially motivated, and the Marines depicted later acknowledged the symbol could be misinterpreted and “is not in keeping with our Marine Corps ethos and values,” said Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, a Marine spokesman. The Marines’ chain of command determined that disciplinary action was not warranted. They were ordered not to use the symbol anymore, and told that further use of it could result in punishment.

A full investigation is necessary, said Mikey Weinstein, president of the MRFF, an organization that says it’s devoted to religious freedom in the military. The SS, or Schutzstaffel, was a military organization that committed a variety of war crimes, including killing U.S. prisoners of war. It was outlawed by Germany after World War II.

“We don’t have all the information, but we know enough to know the Marine Corps needs to open a full investigation,” Weinstein said. “If these guys just get a non-judicial punishment, it’s absolutely absurd.”

The SS logo has been worn by scout snipers going back to at least the 1980s, said Earl Catagnus Jr., who served as a scout sniper in Iraq and now teaches military history at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Pennsylvania and other institutions. Catagnus never got an “SS” tattoo, he said, but he knows Marines of many races who did.

“This symbol has taken on a myth of its own with scout snipers,” he said, adding that he does not condone its use. “They’re sporting it like it’s nothing because they have no idea what it means.”

A Marine official, speaking on background due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Marine leadership does not believe the Marines depicted with the SS flag understood the significance of the logo. That seems possible, said Allen Falk, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America.

“We believe that these young men likely did not understand the significance of this symbol, and we call on the Marine Corps to increase education on American history,” said Falk, who served in Vietnam as a Marine captain. “This issue goes beyond one of racism or anti-Semitism. Our fellow Americans fought and died to stop the Nazis, and it is shameful for any member of the military to display the symbols of Nazi Germany.”

The Corps has addressed the use of the SS logo before, however. A PowerPoint presentation posted on a Marine Corps website said it should not be used in any tattoos. The logo was used by German special police during World War II and is still used by neo-Nazis and graffiti to characterize anti-Semitism, white supremacy and fascism, according to the presentation. It also has been included in previous scout sniper training at Quantico, Catagnus said.

MRFF’s action was prompted by 45-active duty Marines expressing concern about the logo’s use, the organization said in a letter to Amos, Panetta and other top Pentagon officials.

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Scout snipers in the Marine Corps shown with a flag bearing an "SS" similar in design to one used in Germany by the SS, a paramlitary force that operated under the Nazi party.

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