Shame on how some citizens treated Navy

Published 9:10 am Saturday, February 19, 2011

by Robert Meredith

I attended the joint meeting of the Franklin City Council and the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors at the Regional Workforce Development Center along with many of my fellow citizens.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to hear from the Navy about its proposed plans for the Franklin airport and then to receive questions from the citizens, answers to which could then be researched and responded to at a later date.

I watched, as not only were some of us rude to the visiting four-star admiral, but as one after another refused to follow the stated format of the meeting and insisted on making lengthy comments in opposition to the Navy coming to Franklin. Only one lone voice among the many said, “We need to think about our boys.”

Although Franklin has had many fine hours as it has responded to corporate and natural calamity, this was most definitely not one of its finest. Though several speakers opened with words of thanks to the Navy for the work they do in defense of our nation, the words that followed clearly and adamantly stated, “But we don’t want you to do that work in our neighborhood.”

I could not help but think that the “Greatest Generation” has spawned the “Don’t Rock my Boat” generation.

Oh, I, too, enjoy the relative serenity of life in Franklin and have lived here for the past 36 years. Those who have lived here a lot longer also know, though they may choose to forget, that for most of the last century, we all lived across the river from a major industrial complex that was noisy (think logs tumbling in de-barkers and steam vents) and smelly (worse sometimes than others depending on the wind direction and atmosphere).

We lived for years with log trucks and other large trucks spewing their diesel fumes, shifting gears and bouncing off curbs rounding corners. Many will remember the occasional fallout of mill snow that fell on our homes and cars, often damaging the paint on our cars.

And well below the radar of most people, we lived in constant mortal danger of a lethal venting of chlorine gas or an explosion. Yet we now are allowing some vocal naysayers to say for our community that we cannot tolerate the nightly noise of propeller-driven planes taking off and landing at our airport.

This landing practice is so that young pilots can receive training critical to their landing on a postage stamp-size carrier rolling on the sea at night in whatever weather conditions might prevail. I want to add my voice to the few that have spoken in favor of the Navy coming to Franklin.

Those who have spoken out so loudly in the various meetings and in the newspaper have spoken of concern about noise and safety and loss of home value. One wonders if they have forgotten about the noise and smell and safety concerns of living with a large paper mill, or is it because many of those speaking out could choose to live in neighborhoods more remote from those concerns?

Have they so quickly set aside the impact on our home values not only by the national economy, but by the shutting down and departure of International Paper?

Those who have managed to sell their homes amid the glut of homes for sale, often after months and months, are fortunate if they have been able to pay off their mortgages. Do we really think that the Navy will have that kind of impact on the home values in Franklin? I think not.

In fact, if Franklin decided to become a Navy-friendly town, perhaps more of the Navy personnel might discover that Franklin is a pretty good place to live and feel secure about their families while stationed in Hampton Roads and while they are deployed at hotspots around the world.

I am disappointed to learn that our City Council has, based on its meeting with our citizens, decided to cease discussions with the Navy. They have done so without seeking answers to the questions and concerns raised in the public forum and without having all the facts necessary for a rational decision that would take into consideration the welfare of the whole city.

Having told the Navy now that we don’t want you here — no Outlying Landing Field, no training at the Franklin airport — we should not be surprised at a continued curtailment of Navy presence in our area. Nor should we be surprised that the economic impact on Hampton Roads will have an effect on the economic future of Franklin as well.

But mostly I am disappointed that we as a community did not respond more like Dot Pugh when she said, “We need to think about our boys.”

We ask much of our country, including a high degree of professionalism from Navy fliers who put their lives on the line for us every day, yet when asked to do something for our country, we passed.

Go Navy! Just somewhere else, not here!

ROBERT MEREDITH is retired from Union Camp/International Paper and served four years on the Franklin City School Board. He can be reached at