PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Every Memorial and Veteran’s Day for the past 18 years, vets from the Montour Valley VFW have distributed poppies and collected donations for needy comrades at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“If we have a veteran that needs help, whatever way we can do it, that’s what it’s used for,” said Frank Mooney, a Vietnam veteran.
But, this year, to their disbelief, the Airport told Vietnam vets, Mooney and Marty Morris, that they and their poppies were no longer welcome.
“My initial reaction was complete disappointment,” said Mooney.
“Like a slap the face,” added Morris. “It was unbelievable.”
This month, Pittsburgh International Airport is enacting a new policy, which is being adopted by airports across the country, banning all solicitations on it’s concourses.
“There’s not enough room for everybody. So, we have to be fair, we have to draw the line somewhere,” said airport spokesperson Bob Kerlick. “The airport, obviously, is an airport first. Passenger flows are important. Tables being set up in the concourses, it certainly becomes an issue if you have too many.”
Kerlick says because the airport can’t pick and choose, it’s a blanket ban on all groups, no matter how worthy, from the Girls Scouts to the Salvation Army to veterans organizations like the VFW.
“This was a decision that was not made lightly. We certainly understand their concerns, and frankly, are supportive of their cause. But at the end of the day, the airport has to be fair and equal to everybody,” he said.
But to these vets, the ban cuts deep. It’s not only about the money not collected, but also the awareness not raised. The poppies are a fading tradition dating back to World War I, and a poem about the graves of fallen soldiers.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”
“Every school kid knew that poem, and now, when we distribute poppies we run across people who don’t even know what they are, what they signify. It’s sacrifice, it’s thankful,” Morris said.
And despite the objections, the Airport says it will hold firm on the policy – no favorites, no exceptions, no soliticatin from here on in.