Proposed Honor to Schwarzkopf Arouses Controversy
TELLURIDE - The Telluride Foundation announced Friday that it has withdrawn its request to rename the Telluride Post Office after the late General Norman Schwarzkopf, who became internationally famous for leading coalition forces to a quick victory in the 1990 Gulf War to push Iraq out of Kuwait.
Schwarzkopf was a part-time San Miguel County resident and founding board member of the community foundation. The renaming attempt drew opposition from San Miguel County and Telluride elected officials, who did not want to rename a public building after a military figure.
Telluride Foundation president and Chief Executive Officer Paul Major said he wanted to continue the effort to honor Schwarzkopf, but the Schwarzkopf family, who still live in San Miguel County part-time, asked the foundation to withdraw the proposal due to the unforeseen controversy.
Major and the foundation sought to name the post office for Schwarzkopf in recognition of his many philanthropic endeavors over the years and his involvement in the Telluride community. The details behind his contributions, however, are mostly unavailable. Prior to co-founding the Telluride Foundation, which donates millions of dollars a year to local organizations, with Ron Allred, a former CEO of the Telluride Ski Resort, Schwarzkopf had co-founded Camp Boggy Creek, a year-round medical camp for children with serious illnesses in Florida with actor/philanthropist Paul Newman.
“General Schwarzkopf deserves all the accolades we can bestow upon him,” Major stated in a letter. “After consultation with the Schwarzkopf family, however, the Telluride Foundation has withdrawn the proposal to rename the post office in his honor.”
Despite Schwarzkopf’s reputation as a philanthropist and an active participant in the Telluride community, the push to rename Telluride’s only federal building after the four-star general was met with resistance.
Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser, who serves on the board of the Telluride Foundation, inadvertently sparked the controversy on Nov. 14 when he sent a letter he wrote on town stationery supporting the honor for Schwarzkopf to The Watch. Because renaming a federal post office requires an act of the United States Congress, Fraser’s letter was addressed to Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) Fraser released the letter to The Watch before he read it at the Telluride Town Council meeting on Nov. 19.
Members of council objected that Fraser had released the letter before discussing the matter at council.
Councilor Thom Carnevale immediately spoke against renaming the post office for Schwarzkopf, saying that Fraser had not appropriately advised the council of the foundation’s effort.
“I think that in something as controversial as naming a federal post office building after someone, that members of the Council need to be consulted,” said Carnevale. “Now, there may be a majority of support for this – I’m not sure – but I know that I am one of the members of the council that adamantly opposes the naming of the post office for anyone. I don’t care if they’re of the left, or the right, or the middle. I think that it is totally inappropriate… The Telluride Post Office has had the same name for 126 years. Why change?”
Councilor Bob Saunders agreed with Carnevale, saying that he wasn’t properly notified that Fraser had used Telluride town letterhead to draft the letter in support of the Telluride Foundation.
“…If we have something that needs to get out at a certain time, usually the council says go ahead and do this and we sign off on it,” Saunders said. “But I take exception to not being notified about this. And, that [Fraser] used a very personal letter on Town stationery without the support of the rest of the Town Council.” Saunders added that he’d prefer to rename the post office after Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon and also a former part-time San Miguel County resident.
“[Armstrong] embodied more of what Telluride is about – which is advancement in science and that sort of thing rather than somebody who was a general in the military. So, I also do not support ratifying this letter.”
“Do I have concerns that some in the community were upset, absolutely,” said Fraser in an email to The Watch.
“I have always attempted to do what is right for the community. What has occurred here should not happen again to me or anyone else. We need to change the policy so that in the future, council can see letters before they go out. There are always responses that require immediate turn around, but we will find a method so that the necessary involvement of the elected officials takes place. We will make the necessary changes so that letters of support are fully vetted prior to sending them.
“Knowing this community as I do, I felt there would be different opinions,” Fraser added. “I didn’t think they would be as strongly stated as they were. When requested to provide the letter of support, I felt and still do that Norm was much more than an Army general… He was a caring, loving family man who chose to be an important part to this community.”
Councilor Todd Brown, a veteran of the U.S. Army, told The Watch in an email after the Nov. 19 Council meeting that he also disagrees with the push to rename the post office after the late general, adding that he sees renaming the post office as inconsequential and believes the town needs to spend its resources elsewhere.
“I think he was a great man and leader, and I have a hard time swallowing the anti-military rant some have expressed about the renaming concept, but ... regardless of that, to me, it's the Telluride Post Office, and renaming it after the General would be sort of a non-consequential action that would do little other than create another reason for people to take sides against each other. So, to that end alone, I'm not in favor of supporting the renaming attempt,” he said.
San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes, a member of the Green Party, also spoke strongly against the push to rename the post office after a decorated military figure.
“Gen. Schwarzkopf was not a resident of this county, nor did he grow up here, nor is he buried here,” Goodtimes said in a memorandum on Nov. 20. “Further, many of us opposed the Gulf War of which he was the coalition commander. I do not think naming the Telluride Post Office in honor of a military officer best serves the peace-seeking values of this community.”
Goodtimes later said he would support renaming the post office after Bill ‘Senior’ Mahoney, the first employee of the Telluride Ski Resort, or Barbara Martin, a longtime postmaster in Telluride.
“To me, it’s simple,” said Brian Ahern, a Marine and Commander of the Austin Aeitt American Legion #12 in Telluride. “A lot of people felt the same way that I did, and were honored he chose to retire here, and he chose this as his home. He was a true American patriot.
“Anyone that comes from the military knows that privates and four-star generals don’t fraternize. But General Schwarzkopf was such a nice man and so easy to talk to. He really does have a special place in Telluride’s heart.”
Schwarzkopf graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in 1956, going on to earn a master’s degree in guided-missile engineering from the University of Southern California.
A veteran of the Vietnam War and of the invasion of Grenada, Schwarzkopf rose to prominence when he led an international force of over 750,000 troops – the largest coalition since World War II – during the Gulf War in 1990. Many historians consider the Gulf War to be one of the most successful campaigns in U.S. military history.
“That’s why he was recognized as a great general,” said Major. “He was given a charge by the President, he got it done successfully, and he did while minimizing casualties and damage.”
In addition to his various military awards and recognitions, Schwarzkopf was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the county, in 2002. The Congressional Gold Medal is given to persons “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after their achievement.”
The Telluride Ski Resort recently announced it will be honoring the late general by renaming the Ophir Loop trail “Stormin’ Norman.”
“He had a big intellect,” said Major. “He was very smart, and obviously very capable. He was a truly larger-than-life person.”
Gen. Schwarzkopf died at 78 after a bout of pneumonia in December 2012.