Santa Cruz Unit Ousted : Maverick Post Gets the Boot by National VFW

Times Staff Writer

The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Monday canceled the charter of a post in Santa Cruz because it adopted a resolution critical of U.S. military involvement in Central America.

VFW Post 5888 in Santa Cruz, which is about 80 miles south of here, last April adopted a statement supporting "self-determination and nonintervention" in Central America and then in December had a member deliver a copy to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The resolution on Central America adopted by the chapter was in direct opposition to the position of the national VFW.

Richard Anderson, commander of Post 5888, which was founded by Vietnam veterans, said his group would fight the charter revocation until "every last table and flag is forcibly removed from our building."

An attorney for the 80-member post, Eric Schenk, said he is preparing to ask a Santa Cruz County Superior Court to prevent the charter revocation from being enforced.

In a statement released Monday at the VFW's national headquarters in Kansas City, Commander in Chief Billy Ray Cameron said that he had no choice but to revoke the charter of the maverick chapter.

"I fully recognize the right of individuals to speak out on issues of concern," Cameron said. "However, elements of the organization must abide by the mandate of the national convention, myself included."

The VFW's official national statement on Central America, adopted at a convention last summer, urges Congress to take whatever steps are necessary to stop the spread of Marxist influences in the region, according to Howard Vander Clute Jr., VFW chief executive officer.

But members of Post 5888, formed less than two years ago by 25 Vietnam veterans, opposed that policy statement. Another VFW post in Santa Cruz, with 800 members, supported the national resolution.

'Just Rubber Stamp'

"The post across town is a good solid post," Anderson said. "They just rubber stamp whatever is said at the national level. I guess we were also supposed to do that."

Instead, Anderson's group adopted a nonintervention resolution and tried unsuccessfully to get it adopted at a state VFW convention.

Then, last December, the group sent a representative to Central America to present its statement to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Following that, Cameron suspended the post for 60 days.

"The suspension came as a total surprise to us," Anderson said. "I guess there is no free speech here because the national office was saying that what we were doing was illegal."

Continue Activities

Despite the suspension, Anderson said, his group has continued activities that include sponsoring lectures on U.S. foreign policy issues in accordance with its resolution to "encourage a free and open exchange of opinion and information concerning American policy in Central America."

In announcing the revocation, Cameron noted the group's "fine record of community service during its relatively short history."

"But after examining the relative documents in the case, unfortunately I had no choice but to order the revocation of their charter," Cameron said.

Rare Action

Vander Clute said that although revoking a post's charter is rarely done for adopting of a conflicting policy statement of this nature, the decision was clearly supported by VFW bylaws and was not without precedent.

However, attorney Schenk disagreed.

"There is nothing in the bylaws that forbids a local post from passing a resolution that does not conform to one passed by the national convention," he said.

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