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Vietnam vet branded “panhandler” for handing out memorial poppies

By Michelle Malkin  •  November 25, 2008 10:19 AM

Some of you will remember my friend Big John Miska, who sent me a classic Photo of the Day a few years ago capturing his encounter with a 9/11 Truther:


Big John is a Vietnam veteran and VFW leader who works tirelessly on charitable efforts for our troops. Last year, my family and I attended his Thanksgiving feast for wounded vets at the VFW in Arlington, VA. John’s got a heart of gold and an infectious, can-do attitude.

Now, he’s in trouble. Some petty bureaucrats have branded him a “panhandler” and repeatedly threatened him with arrest for handing out “Buddy Poppies” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Rutherford Institute has come to his aid:

A local veteran is speaking out after police threatened to arrest him for distributing ‘Buddy Poppies’ or memorial flowers at the National Mall in Washington D.C. Now the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute has stepped in and filed a first amendment lawsuit against the National Park Police.

Now the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute has stepped in and filed a first amendment lawsuit against the National Park Police.

John Miska enjoys volunteering and spends most of time helping injured veterans and distributing ‘Buddy Poppies.’

“They’re handed out as a remembrance of veterans sacrifice. The poppies are red representing the blood the soldiers shed and it’s a reminder and it gives people pause to think,” said John Miska, Veteran.

Recently the National Park Police threatened to arrest Miska for handing out his Poppies on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

“People see me standing there and they approach me and ask may I have a Poppy and I give them a Poppy. If people are moved to offer a donation we accept the donations,” said Miska.

According to president of the Rutherford Institute Miska hasn’t done anything wrong, he has only expressed his first amendment rights.

“People occasionally give him money. There’s a statute it’s a D.C. law that says you can’t aggressively solicit money, but he doesn’t do any of that. We feel it’s a violation of the first amendment of the United States Constitution which guarantees you the right to assemble or guarantees you the right to free speech to hand out Buddy Poppies,” said John Whitehead, President, Rutherford Institute.

Miska says this experience isn’t going to stop him from his mission and that it will only encourage him to do more.

“I took an oath to the constitution to preserve protect and defend and I feel if you don’t stand up for you rights you will lose those rights,” said Miska.

CBS19 has tried contacting the U.S. Park Police, but they have not returned the phone call.

The Rutherford Institute is waiting on the government to answer the complaint. What happens next will depend on the U.S. Attorney General’s response.

John is undaunted. And he’s busy with holiday planning and volunteering. He let me know he’s working on a Christmas party at Walter Reed for 300 wounded soldiers and their families and asked me to spread the word. Any cash donations or gifts would be most welcome. Last year, Miska and his crew handed out MP3 players to hundreds of soldiers.

We will accept Christmas cards to hand out as well over the Holidays. They must be unsealed so they may be inspected. If someone wants to send a specific gift we will hand out tickets and draw by number to hand out gifts that we receive. They must be unwrapped and in original factory packaging. If someone wants to send wrapping paper and tape along with a note or card we will include that with gift. A suggestion would be a gift card to a major store, restaurant or gas station with a Christmas card.

Donations may be sent to
VFW Post 8208
PO Box 653
Ruckersville VA 22923

Place a memo note that donation is Christmas fund.

We are a 501c19 Veterans Service Organization for tax purposes and will provide IRS donation letters upon request for tax returns.

Help out if you can!

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Categories: Feature Story, Veterans