Group says plane is no 'Nazi tribute'

Veterans organization says German airplane is used for re-enactments, education
2007-06-04T00:00:00Z Group says plane is no 'Nazi tribute'KIRSTEN SRINIVASAN

A plane with swastikas on its tail, based at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, won't land a home at Lansing Municipal Airport anytime soon.

Recent rumors about the German Junker Ju 52 moving to the village have been unfounded, said John Kowal, the volunteer public information officer for the Great Lakes Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.

Kowal, who said the Junker Ju 52 is used for historical re-enactments and education, is concerned about recent confusion about his group after an unsigned letter was sent to Lansing Village Trustee Bob Ryan and sparked discussion at a Lansing Village Board meeting May 15.

The letter said the "Nazi tribute airplane" was offensive to people of Jewish and Dutch descent and World War II veterans.

The Commemorative Air Force, founded by World War II veterans, has "absolutely no politics other than U.S. patriotism," Kowal said. Rather, it's a nonprofit museum organization and brings the planes "to the people" rather than hanging them in a room in a museum, he said.

"I'm not sure what the issue is ... unless someone mistakenly thinks this is a group that is pro-Nazi, which is preposterous," Kowal said.

The Commemorative Air Force has a WWII-era American Douglas C-47 in addition to the Junker Ju 52, which was built in Spain after the war, Kowal said. The Junker Ju 52 is one of only seven such planes still flying in the world and the only one still flying in the United States, he said.

The unsigned letter said Lansing Village Trustee Patty Eidam and Lansing Airport Manager Bob Malkas were encouraging the plane's owners to bring it to Lansing.

Eidam said she has not talked to anyone from the group and still doesn't know enough to form an opinion.

"I didn't know anything about it until someone handed me a copy of an anonymous letter someone wrote," she said, adding that unsigned letters are "cowardly."

Kowal's group hopes to stay in Gary, but it's considering its options because of possible development at the airport.

The nonprofit has not been in contact with Eidam, Kowal said.

As a federally funded airport with grants, the Lansing airport is not supposed to discriminate, said Malkas, who provided an estimate to the Commemorative Air Force for what it would cost to house the plane in Lansing.

A former history teacher, Malkas said he also viewed the plane as a learning opportunity.

"Even though I don't agree with what the Nazi symbol represents, I don't see why people are so upset about it," Malkas said. "This is not a right-wing coup group, but a prestigious organization, manned by numerous military veterans who love history and aviation."

Lansing Mayor Dan Podgorski said he is frustrated by the anonymity of the letters and there are no plans to bring the plane to the village. To do so, its owners would have to reach out to the anonymous people who are upset, he said.

Because of the airport's grants, the village might not have a say, he said.

"My position, at this point, is until someone from the federal or state government says we have to accept it, I'm not interested in the plane, because it's creating a lot of negativity," Podgorski said.

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