By BRIAN McGILLIVARY
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Members of the Northwestern Regional Airport Commission reversed an earlier decision and installed a permanent, compromise “welcome home” sign for veterans in a prominent area of Cherry Capital Airport.
Airport commissioners previously relegated a small sign to a corner of the airport, thanks to politically oriented objections from Veterans of Foreign Wars representatives who didn’t like the sign’s sponsor, Veterans for Peace. The decision prompted a public outcry about the sign size and location, but airport officials contend that played no role in their about-face.
“The airport was always for the sign. We liked the idea,” said Kevin Klein, airport director. “But the two groups were opposed to each other and the airport commission didn’t want to be involved in that.”
Veterans for Peace proposed to donate the sign to the airport with a small acknowledgement the group paid for it. Representatives of the VFW, led by former airport commissioner and Leelanau County Commissioner Richard Schmuckal, objected. The representatives attacked the anti-war, Veterans for Peace charity as a radical, unpatriotic political organization.
The commission approved in April a small sign with no sponsor identification to be posted in a corner of the baggage claim area. The commission’s building and grounds committee then invited the two veterans groups back for another meeting in May to try and resolve the issue.
“Mr. Schmuckal showed up and he just berated us again,” said Tim Keenan, president of the local Veterans for Peace chapter. “If we were going to donate the sign, I couldn’t see why we couldn’t have a small little logo.”
Schmuckal said he was just repeating what VFW members in Leelanau County say about Veterans for Peace.
“They just feel it is a radical group,” Schmuckal said. “We weren’t opposed to the sign, we were opposed to the group behind it and we didn’t want them to get any credit for it.”
Keenan also offered to have both groups co-sponsor the sign with shared logos, but Schmuckal declined to participate if Veterans for Peace had their name on the sign.
Klein said the airport commission believed the battle between the two veterans groups would detract from the sign’s message. The commission voted May 28 to erect its own sign near the gate where passengers disembark. The sign displays emblems for each branch of the military and says “Welcome home,” and “Thank you for serving our county.”
The sign cost the airport $350 and will be there forever, Klein said. It complements the airport’s partnership with the Patriot Guard group that turns out to welcome returning soldiers.
“That’s fine with us; I just want the sign up there,” Keenan said. “Some of these veterans are coming back pretty screwed up and hopefully this — welcoming them home — will help a little bit.”