Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 12, 2013

VFW opposition pushes "welcome home" sign into corner

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A local military veterans group’s desire to welcome active military personnel home to Traverse City met with opposition from some traditional veterans organizations, prompting airport officials to nudge a proposed welcoming sign into a corner near a baggage carousel.

The local group Veterans for Peace wanted to erect a prominent sign at Cherry Capital Airport to welcome military service persons and all veterans. Group members wanted to post the sign in the area where passengers disembark, which led to protests from some Veterans of Foreign Wars post commanders.

Airport commissioners responded by agreeing to Veterans for Peace’s request — sort of. The welcoming sign is expected to hang on a phone stand for a year in the airport’s luggage area. That decision didn’t please the Peace group.

“To me, it’s insulting to every veteran who is coming home and every veteran, period,” said Tim Keenan, president of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. “The men and women who serve our country do so because they are doing what’s right, they are doing that to protect us. They’ve paid a price. They deserve a little something welcoming them home.”

Airport officials said it’s the only area they have available for the sign. Other areas of the airport are limited to directional signs or paid advertising.

Veterans in his group proposed the sign because they know what it can mean to military personnel coming home from war, Keenan said.

Former airport commissioner and Leelanau County Commissioner Richard Schmuckal led the sign opposition effort, along with VFW commanders from Lake Leelanau and Traverse City.

The stance against the sign wasn’t about the message; opponents just don’t like messenger, said Richard Thibeau, Commander of VFW Cherrlyand Post 2780.

“The Veterans for Peace organization is a radical, liberal political organization,” Thibeau said. “Their (past) president is a female proud of her arrest record. To me, that’s a criminal organization, it’s not patriotic and should not be given any consideration.”

Thibeau said the sign is a good idea and he could support it, as long as there was no indication it was a donation from Veterans for Peace. He also thinks it merits a more prominent location in the airport.

June Thaden said she had two grandsons serve in combat in the Middle East and believes a sign welcoming them home would have meant something to them.

“Sitting it in the corner would almost be an insult,” Thaden said. “They would say: ‘So this is how important we are.’”

Linda Dunigan of Traverse City said she was “stupefied” by the treatment of the proposal from Veterans for Peace.

“How can anyone oppose this,” she told airport commissioners at a recent meeting. “I am just baffled.”

Airport commission member Daniel Ahrns said commissioners took all concerns into consideration the concerns before they chose the baggage site.

Keenan said he was shocked by opponents’ animosity and about what he said were falsehoods expressed about his organization.

Veterans For Peace is an anti-war, nonprofit group of military veterans who said they are dedicated to informing the public about the true causes and costs of war, while simultaneously supporting veterans and their families, he said.

Keenan said he will work on a couple of sign designs for the airport commission’s review and hopes they might relent on sign placement.

“This isn’t just for the troops, but for all people,” Keenan said. “We want to remind people that the troops are still there, still fighting for us ... and we need to appreciate what they are doing for us.”