Marine Mistreatment at Oakland Airport Unacceptable

On Monday John Gibson highlighted reports that U.S. Marines returning from deployment in Iraq were relegated to cargo status at Oakland airport. Two hundred returning Marines landed in California for a three-hour layover before getting on their final flight to Hawaii where they were stationed. Instead of being welcomed into the airport terminal, the troops were kept in a separate area where the airlines stow extra baggage.

According to "Big Story" correspondent Douglas Kennedy, these brave Americans were not allowed inside the terminal to use the bathroom, buy food or magazines. Airport authorities chalk it up to a big miscommunication over security screening and bureaucratic rules. Perhaps.

This might be believable if the Bay Area had not historically stood in the military’s way. Last week we reported that San Francisco would not reasonably accommodate Marines who wanted to shoot a television commercial on the streets of San Francisco.

Gibson, a native of the area, remembers how some residents of the Bay Area treated troops during the 1970s. He said, “This smacks of the bad old days in the Bay Area when returning Vietnam vets were spat upon.” He added, “Some high-ranking military person should make sure it never happens again. Our Iraq vets should be welcome anywhere and everywhere.”

The incident at the Oakland airport reminded me of a scene I witnessed while at the Dallas airport earlier this year. As I walked down the terminal, I noticed that a big crowd of travelers and airport workers had gathered. Businessmen broke from their phone conversations, parents and children paid attention, TSA screeners stopped what they were doing, and flight attendants paused. A gate attendant just announced that a large group of U.S. soldiers — fresh from Iraq — was just about to walk off the plane.

More than 100 travelers and employees waited in silence. The gateway door opened and one by one young men and women, each with a tanned face and wearing their uniform, stepped onto U.S. soil. The crowd applauded, cheered loudly and yelled, “Welcome home!” I stood among a group of strangers. Each of us said “Thank you” to the men and women who walked off that plane. Some bystanders cried, and many of the soldiers seemed touched — some fought back tears, others remained stoic.

I was proud to be an American and equally proud by the way that our men and women who serve our country were treated — with the gratitude and respect they deserve. If only those in the Bay Area felt the same way.

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