The news article “When Veterans Collide” was very one sided in my opinion. It sounded as if many veterans who have served their country and other veterans for most of their lives were obstacles that kept younger veterans from participating in one of the groups currently in the Veterans Coordinating Council (VCC) or kept them from taking advantage of the veterans building. Those of us who served in the Marines and other services believe strongly in “No man or woman left behind.” These are not just words to us; they are how we live.
The suggestion in the article that the “bickering” is “between two muddled factions of old timers” is insulting and derogatory.
The veterans involved are all people who care about veterans; otherwise, they would not be donating their time to participate in a discussion that concerns veterans. Veterans come in all ages, and to suggest that “old timers” should make room for younger veterans is an insult that smacks of discrimination.
The Pierre Claeyssens Museum and Library Foundation’s acceptance of the $1 million donation never carried any requirement that it be used to give the “aging Memorial Building” a face lift. The intent was to create a veterans museum. John Blankenship has been attempting to take over the Memorial Building and create the museum there. Some veterans feel that the taking over by John Blankenship and the Pierre Claeyssens Museum and Library will put the entire building at the control of one person and whomever he selects and hires.
No veteran is opposed to improving the membership for their specific group. It is every member’s goal to help veterans and their families. To suggest that “old timers” are opposed to that is simply not true.
There have been several red flags that concern current veterans.
• John Blankenship showed up unannounced at a veterans group meeting with approximately 12 people and agreed to pay for their membership so a vote could be changed.
• A building manager was fired approximately two weeks after he had been applauded for his work by the VCC. The reason he allegedly received was that he “just did not fit.” During the meeting to investigate his termination (a meeting Mr. Penner refused to attend), it was learned that he was fired by the Building Maintenance chair,” who did not have the authority and had been appointed by Mr. Penner and allowed to select who would be in his committee. Additionally, the building manager had an assistant hired by Hazel (John Blankenship’s wife), who is not a veteran and does not hold an office. The person was hired and the building manager was allegedly told her salary would be paid by the Pierre Claeyssens Museum and Library. The building manager was rehired, and the assistant resigned. The building manager resigned shortly after in disgust. (That building manager is a decorated combat veteran and, I suppose, could be considered and “old timer.”
• During the meeting and vote that Mr. Penner allegedly won by a close vote, a member stated that he had sat in each group’s vote and the vote now counted had been changed. Mr. Penner responded that each representative for their group “could listen to what his or her group wanted but was later free to vote how the representative wanted” since what his group voted was just a suggestion on how he or she should vote. The instructions for the Marine Corps League have always been that the membership would vote their desires and the majority vote would be the vote submitted by our representative. Mr. Penner does not have the authority to dictate how the different organizations can instruct their representative.
• During this same meeting there was a request by the American GI Forum to join the VCC. The objection was that there was an attempt to sway the vote, and they should not be allowed in. There was a majority vote to allow the group to join, but Mr. Penner stated that the by-laws required a two-thirds majority, so they could not become VCC members. This group of veterans was not allowed to be members of the VCC and share in the decisions that affect their rights as veterans regarding this building. This group consists of all nationalities and was started by Hispanics in Texas after WWII when Hispanics were being discriminated against and having trouble accessing their benefits. Now over 50 years later they have again faced the same problems simply to control the vote.
• “Fresh Brass” Charles “Crash” Huff, as he was referred to by The Independent, was hired by Mr. Penner without any meeting or information. Mr. Huff was one of the veterans brought into the meeting mentioned above by Mr. Blankenship in an effort to change a vote. Many decorated veterans and veterans who have served in many positions both in military and civilian life in Santa Barbara could have applied for the position. While Mr. Huff may be well qualified, we will never know if someone else equally qualified would have applied. Who determines Mr. Huff’s salary?
• Members are now being told that the building tablecloths will not be available because “we are getting out of the tablecloths business.” These have always been used as available by the veteran groups for their functions. Whose decision is this, and how does this encourage veterans to use the building?
This is not bickering; these are real concerns regarding the self-serving and underhanded efforts to control the Veterans Memorial Building.
Brijido A. Alvarado is commandant of Detachment 024 of the Marine Corps League in Santa Barbara.