A vet who was at the 173rd Airborne reunion in Rochester last week had a problem at the Armed Forces center in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. He sent me a copy of his followup e-mail to the airport:
My name is James Edgcomb. I am a Viet Nam war veteran and am 100% disabled as a result of my service to our country. I am a member of the VVA, DAV, MOPH, and the 173rd Airborne. On June 24, I was returning from a reunion of the 173rd that was held in Rochester, MN. I had a three hour wait for my connecting flight back to Spokane. I noticed your facility and decided to step in, have a cup of coffee and leave a donation. I have done this at several USO clubs located in other airports and always enjoy the opportunity to meet with members of the military and donate to what I consider to be a good cause.
After requesting a cup of coffee and leaving $10 as a donation, I was told by one of the employees that I was not welcome since I was a "retiree." He told me that I had to sit outside. Please note that there were only 3 other people in the facility at the time. I did not argue, just simply went outside.
Is it your organization's policy to deny disabled veterans the opportunity to sit and socialize with their fellow comrades? I take it that a veteran of Iraq who is severely disabled as a result of his service to our country would also fall into this category. Making someone who has given so much for their country sit outside is reminiscent of the days when certain minorities were forced to sit in the back of the bus.
I am welcome at every U.S. military base in this country and abroad. I use the exchange services on a regular basis at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. I am also eligible to stay at any of the military R&R centers worldwide (Shades of Green, Edelweiss, etc). I have always been welcome at the USO clubs. The one in San Jose, Calif., was particularly nice when I had an overnight in the airport after escorting a fellow disabled veteran to the VA hospital in Menlo Park.
While in Rochester for the reunion, we were welcomed with open arms by the city and its citizens. The mayor held a ceremony in which we were presented with honorary keys to the city as well as medals to commemorate our service to our country. A parade was held in our honor. Everywhere we went we were treated with respect and made to feel welcome. Thus it was particularly disheartening to be made to feel so unwelcome in your facility.
I notice from your brochure that "citizens" who work for the DOD are welcome. Not that I feel they should be excluded. They fulfill an important support role to the military. However, they generally are not asked to give up life and limb as a part of their routine duties. Apparently the Gold Star Mothers that were at the reunion would also not be welcome. These are mothers who have given their sons to our country. I guess their sacrifice is not enough to make them eligible to have a cup of coffee in your center.
I am awaiting your reply with clarification of your policies. If it is indeed true that our nation's disabled veterans are not welcome at your center, I would like to give your organization a chance to change your policy. Should you decide to maintain the current policy, I shall bring this situation to the attention of my senator (a veteran himself), the news media and the various military organizations to which I belong.
James R. Edgcomb