Two Gold Star family members faced name calling, screaming and obscenities and one had her clothing defaced when they encountered protesters outside an inaugural ball in Washington, D.C. last week. But instead of feeling angry about the incident, the pair is using the encounters as inspiration.
Ryan Manion and Amy Looney attended the Veterans Inaugural Ball hosted by the American Legion at the Renaissance Hotel in D.C. on Jan. 20 after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Manion's brother, Marine Corps Lt. Travis Manion, was killed in Iraq in 2007. Looney's husband, Navy Lt. Brendan Looney, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. Both women work for the Travis Manion Foundation, a non-profit focused on building character in communities.
Running late for the ball after encountering multiple road closures and traffic, they chose to walk in rather than be dropped in front of the hotel. The result was encountering a gauntlet of protesters who called them "vulgar names," and told them "that we were ruining America and that we need to get jobs," Looney said.
As they exited the ball at the end of the evening, another protester physically bumped into Manion and, they later realized, defaced with silver marker an heirloom shawl that had belonged to her late mother.
"I don’t even feel comfortable calling them protesters," Looney said in an interview with Military.com. "Most of the people who were yelling at us were younger to middle-aged women who just seemed so full of anger and hate. For us who have been through losing a brother and husband, it was a tough pill to swallow to watch people say things to people that they have no idea who they are."
The encounters, however, have inspired Looney and Manion to work even harder towards the Travis Manion Foundation's mission of teaching good character to future generations, Looney said.
"Having character, at the end of the day, is what really brings people together. During trying times regardless of whatever part of the table you sit on, we should all be trying to bring people together," she said. "People can say words to you, and obviously they are hurtful, but at the same time it's sort of reinvigorated Ryan and I. ... These types of character values that we’re spreading through programming and messaging could certainly be more evident in these peoples’ lives. It showed us that we have an even bigger mission."
The Veterans Inaugural Ball has been held after each inauguration since President Dwight Eisenhower took office, Legion officials said. About 1,000 people attended this year's event, including 34 Medal of Honor recipients.
Legion officials said they are shocked at how Looney and Manion were treated.
"The American Legion is disgusted that anyone, much less a Gold Star family, would be treated this way," said John Raughter, a spokesman for the Legion. "It has nothing to do with politics. It’s about human decency."
Other attendees at the ball who entered through the parking garage reported that they did not encounter any protesters.