But it wasn’t an easy row to hoe.
The meeting turned emotional at times, with nearly 50 people taking turns discussing why or why not — mostly why — Senft’s name should be graven on the black granite monument near Tracy City Hall.
The normally sleepy association gathering was swelled partly by a reaction to last week’s column, which revealed that at least a few members of the Tracy community didn’t agree with the decision to have Senft on the memorial because he committed suicide while stationed in Afghanistan.
A correction from that column, before we go further. Julie and Scott Conover, who did not agree with the War Memorial Association’s decision to include Senft’s name, did not formally petition to keep his name off the monument, as my column said.
They merely inquired as to how the decision was made and what the standards were for inclusion on the memorial and wanted to contribute their opinion.
My apologies for the error.
Now, back to the story.
On Tuesday, with the Conovers present, voices broke and some tempers flared during a meeting president John Treantos called the best-attended in association history.
Scott Conover, a blue star and gold star parent, took pains to state his opinion while acknowledging Senft’s service and the terrible loss endured by his family — Senft’s father and stepfather were also in attendance.
“We’re very, very sorry,” Conover said, his voice heavy with emotion. “I hate to say it here tonight, but that’s how we feel. We’re very, very sorry for the loss of your son.”
Mike Cotrell agreed.
“He chose to take his life, and I don’t agree with that,” Cotrell said, adding that suicide was not an honorable death.
But that opinion was squarely in the minority, as a quick scan of my inbox this week predicted.
In six years at the Press, and more than five years of writing Second Thoughts, nothing I’ve typed has generated as many e-mails and signed letters as last week’s column. And every single written correspondence I received was in favor of engraving Senft’s name on the war memorial.
I personally agree that adding the staff sergeant is the right thing to do, and the Press will be there on Veterans Day when his name is unveiled.
However, I didn’t agree with some of the tone of the Tuesday night meeting.
I acknowledge what an emotional issue suicide can be. More than one military veteran stood up and related how they had seen others despair and succumb, or told how close they’d been to turning a gun on themselves. And there was no shame in the sharing.
It was deeply powerful stuff, which should secure beyond a doubt Senft’s place on this community’s war memorial.
But too much of the criticism leveled at those who don’t share that view turned personal. It’s not fair to vilify those who see things otherwise — it takes courage to stand up and defend what you believe, especially when it’s unpopular. And I think this was an important conversation for our city to have.
In the end, there are no winners or villains here — just members of the same community struggling to deal with the scars of war.
This is a time to accept those differences and move on together, with full support for one another. In front of the war memorial Nov. 11 might be a good time and place to start.
• Second Thoughts is an opinion column by editor Jon Mendelson. To share your thoughts, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.