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Dispute causes distraction during Royal Oak Memorial Day parade

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

In Royal Oak, a controversy over a war memorial was a distraction hovering over Monday’s Memorial Day parade.

Thousands of people lined Main Street, listening to bands play, waving at veterans riding floats and hearing several groups of women dressed as “Rosie the Riveter” chant “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.”

Normally, Memorial Day unites communities, but there is a division in Royal Oak.

The decision by the city’s elected leaders to move a memorial honoring Royal Oak’s war dead prompted veterans groups to tell city officials they would be “unwelcome” at this year’s parade. 

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Construction of the redesigned city park continues in Royal Oak

“It saddens me that there’s a distraction from the real purpose of what Memorial Day is about,” said Mayor Mike Fournier.

City leaders spent a couple years gauging public feelings about a proposed redesign of the city park where the memorial has sat since 2007. Royal Oak’s Downtown Development Agency is paying the $5 million price tag for the new park.  Construction of the park is underway and expected to be complete by November.

Veterans groups complain they were not consulted about moving the memorial and do not like the current design. They’re asking a judge to intervene and allow a public vote on the plan. 

If the veterans groups are successful, city officials say it will cost an additional $400,000 to redesign the redesigned city park.

Tom Roth is the commander of Royal Oak’s American Legion post. He says veterans groups sent a letter to city officials saying they weren’t “welcome” at Monday’s parade because they are upset.

Roth softened that statement at the parade.

“In my mind personally, I also feel that everybody...every American...every non-American...everybody can come to a Memorial Day parade,” said Roth.

A judge is expected to hold a hearing on the veterans’ legal challenge in June.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.