A decision to bar an antiwar veterans group from marching Sunday in South Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day parade has politicians running for cover, as former servicemen face off over the pending war with Iraq.
A spokesman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that the parade is private and that the mayor could not get involved.
US Representative Stephen F. Lynch's office said the South Boston congressman ''doesn't think it would be appropriate to meddle.''
''It is his hope that the veterans groups work things out among themselves,'' said Lynch aide Matt Ferraguto.
But there seemed little chance of that yesterday.
The controversy erupted last week, when the group Boston Veterans for Peace faxed in an application to march with other veterans in South Boston's annual parade celebrating the neighborhood's Irish heritage and honoring the men and women serving in the armed forces. The Veterans for Peace said they planned to carry signs denouncing the prospect of war with Iraq.
But on Friday afternoon, the parade's chief organizer, John ''Wacko'' Hurley, consulted with members of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, a coalition of veterans groups that puts on the parade. About 18 people gave their input, Hurley said yesterday, and all were in favor of barring Boston Veterans for Peace from the march.
''I don't want our marvelous men and women going over there and fighting, but you still have to go along with the leaders in Washington,'' said Hurley, 72, who has organized the parade for decades.
So Hurley called John Redue of Somerville, head of Boston Veterans for Peace, which is a local chapter of a national organization and has about two dozen active local members. Hurley told him his group did not have an ''appropriate message'' for the parade, Redue said.
''I was more shocked than anything else,'' said Redue, 32, who served in the Air Force from 1990 to 1999. ''People apparently don't think you can be for peace and support the troops at the same time. I think questioning policies . . . is the duty of patriots.''
It was not the first time Hurley has ignited controversy by barring a group from the parade. A decade ago, his ban on an Irish-American gay and lesbian group was argued all the way to the US Supreme Court, where justices voted unanimously in his favor, declaring the parade a private affairn't want in, and that's the bottom line,'' said Hurley.
Anthony F. Flaherty, a Boston Veterans for Peace member who was born and raised in South Boston, took last week's rejection personally. Years ago, Hurley was best man at his wedding. When Flaherty's 25 years in the Navy overlapped with Hurley's for four years, the two spent their days off together. ''No veteran who has seen action would deny a fellow veteran, a buddy, respect and the right to march,'' said Flaherty, whose time in the military included three years in Vietnam. ''I have seen young men die. . . . I'm a retired naval officer and a combat vet, and I daresay I have more legitimacy than those who are denying us the right.''
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