Who knew you could put a price on remembering fallen soldiers?
That's the question being asked by the Friends of the Forgotten, a group that assembles on the first Sunday of every June to remember soldiers who have been listed as prisoners of war or missing-in-action.
For as long as most members can recall, the Friends have ridden their motorcycles to the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial, at Front and Spruce streets, and held a quiet, one-hour memorial.
But this year, the group was forced to change their plans when the city asked them to fork over $13,000 for police officers who are assigned to the memorial, said Elliot DuRitz, of Friends of the Forgotten.
The nonprofit group, he said, doesn't have that kind of cash. The Friends had no other choice but to look elsewhere for a venue. They found one - for free - at Valley Forge, where they will assemble tomorrow at about noon.
"I understand the city has a budget crisis, but this is shameful," DuRitz said.
"We come together every year, say a few prayers and play taps for the sons who have been lost. It's an emotional event."
Jazelle Jones, the city's deputy managing director, said letters went out in December informing any group that applied for a city permit that it would be expected to pay for city services.
The $13,000 figure represents the cost of police officers who escort Friends members as they travel through the city to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, she said.
If the group had agreed to move their memorial to May 31 - a day with fewer public events, which would have required less police overtime - the cost would have been $8,300, Jones noted.
It was still an impossibly high number for the Friends of the Forgotten. "There's no way we could have paid that," DuRitz said.
Even if the Friends could have footed the bill, it's unclear how many officers would have escorted them, or for how long. Jones was unable to get a detailed breakdown from the police department last night.
"We don't need police with us. We can wait at traffic lights," DuRitz said.
"I keep hoping somebody will say, 'C'mon, this is baloney.' It's heart-breaking."
City Councilman James Kenney said he hopes the Friends will contact his office in January to work out a solution for next year's gathering.
"It's a tough time right now, but you can make things work," Kenney said. *