Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 14, 2013

Editorial: Battle over sign leaves a bad taste

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — It was hardly their finest moment.

Yes, the Northwestern Regional Airport Commission reversed itself and put up a “welcome home” sign for veterans in the arrivals area at Cherry Capital Airport.

But the decision was made in the equivalent of the dead of night — at a very low-profile building and grounds committee meeting, and only after the commission had caved in to scurrilous attacks on some local veterans by a representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A few months ago the local chapter of Veterans for Peace asked to put up a sign welcoming veterans coming through Cherry Capital. But Dick Schmuckal, a former Leelanau County and airport commissioner and a VFW member, alerted the VFW.

At an airport board meeting Cherrlyand VFW Post 2780 Commander Richard Thibeau went off.

“The Veterans for Peace organization is a radical, liberal political organization,” Thibeau said. “Their (past national) 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.”

Airport commissioners agreed to stick a small sign out by the baggage area. But when the public found out what had transpired, commissioners did a 180.

Now there’s a large, permanent sign in the arrivals area that says “Welcome home” and “Thank you for serving our country.” It bears emblems for each branch of the military.

Cherry Capital Executive Director Kevin Klein acknowledged the outcry the initial decision generated, but claimed it played no role in the about-face. Right.

“We liked the idea” of a sign, he said. “But the two groups were opposed to each other and the airport commission didn’t want to be involved in that.”

What? If the airport commission doesn’t get involved in airport issues, who will — or should? It was their job to get involved.

And this was not a case of the two groups “opposed to each other.” This was Veterans for Peace being attacked as a “criminal organization” simply for preferring peace over war. Thibeau said he could support a sign as long as there was no indication it was a donation from Veterans for Peace.

In the end, the VFW got what it later claimed it wanted — a welcome sign that doesn’t include any mention of those peaceniks. But it didn’t win any points for its treatment of fellow veterans.

Veterans for Peace got a sign, which members said was all they wanted in the first place. The group may have won the public relations war, but it paid a price.

As veterans groups say, freedom isn’t free — even, apparently, the freedom to say thank you.