The wreath placement and opening ceremony for the Vietnam and All Veterans Reunion at Wickham Park, Melbourne. Tim Shortt, FLORIDA TODAY
A skirmish between residents and management at a North Fort Myers development in Florida involving a memorial to the Vietnam War ended peacefully if not unhappily Tuesday.
The issue arose seemingly overnight when residents of the Del Tura Golf & Country Club began talking on social media sites about a mural on a garage door painted in black and depicting a Vietnam War-era soldier kneeling before a cross with a helicopter flying in the background.
Community officials sent Bob Masson, 71, a Vietnam War vet and the mural’s owner, a letter asking him to remove the depiction. Apparently there also had been a complaint.
“It feels like I’ve been kicked in the head,” Masson said. “It feels like (his service in the war) meant nothing right now. It meant a lot to us when we were over there.”
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Tuesday morning a group of residents gathered at the Del Tura clubhouse parking lot and started discussing the issue, which they said they thought was all about the military content of the mural.
Del Tura is a 55-and-over manufactured homes community on U.S. 41 in North Fort Myers.
“There’s a lot of military veterans in here,” Don Beavers, 60 and a veteran, said. “It was on NextDoor and it just blew up yesterday. Everyone got involved last night.”
NextDoor is a social media site that developments such as Del Tura, gated communities and local communities can join to find out goings-on for their specific areas.
Richard Dzedzej, a resident at Del Tura, said the homeowner is a Vietnam veteran and was going to comply with the letter he received and paint over the picture.
“Other veterans told him that there is nothing wrong with it and to leave it intact,” Dzedzej said.
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Eventually Fred Taylor, the community manager, came out and addressed the residents.
“I’m happy to answer questions,” Taylor told them. “But not with the news present.”
Taylor told the group before moving inside the clubhouse that he was unaware they would be coming to meet with him with the news media present.
When questioned about the letter Taylor said Masson had not sought the proper approval despite community rules that disallow any mural on a garage door.
“I explained it is not the content of the graphic,” Taylor said before asking the residents to meet with him in private. “It is any graphic.”
Taylor pointed out that the community flies a POW flag on its main flagpole.
After the meeting the residents said they were satisfied but some were still a bit rankled that it was handled the way it was.
“I consider it unhappily settled,” Dzedzej said. “I understand the point but do think they could have let him keep it.”
Dzedzej’s son Mike doesn’t live at Del Tura but was visiting with his veteran dad and wasn’t happy either.
“I think it’s nonsense that he has to take it down,” he said.
Masson, who has a flagpole with the POW and U.S. flags flying, and statues of military figures on his front lawn in basically the same configuration as the mural, said he put up the mural three months ago.
“I’m a military man all the way,” Masson said. “I’m just appalled that I have to take this off. It took them three months to send me the letter. But I see their point, they have a job to do.”
He said he was told he could keep the mural until Memorial Day and then replace it with a flag of the same topic or a plexiglass depiction and place it alongside the house. He said the brief battle won’t prompt him to move.
“I have a lot of good friends, veterans, behind me 100 percent. I’m very disappointed,” he said. “But I’ll get over it. … I’ll bite the bullet.”
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Victor DiGrazia, 90, an Army veteran who saw action in the Korean War. “I’ll fight for this country till the day I die but the management is right. We have 1,300 residents here. What if someone wanted to put up a picture of a motorcycle?”
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After the meeting broke up Taylor declined to comment and referred questions to corporate offices of Hometown America Communities Corporation, owner of Del Tura and other communities in 12 states.
Attempts to reach company president and spokesman Stephen Braun were unsuccessful.
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The article "Vietnam War mural pits residents vs. community management" was originally published on https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2019/05/07/florida-vietnam-war-memorial-mural-del-tura-golf-country-club-north-fort-myers/1135813001/