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Article updated: 1/20/2013 6:40 AM

Glendale Hts. VFW insists on flags despite lease threat

Landlord calls Old Glory a violation

By Christopher Placek

Every day, VFW members raise two flags to the top of a pole outside Post 2377: the American flag and POW/MIA flag.

But that's apparently against the rules of the new owner, as the property manager sent a letter last week to the Glendale Heights organization stating flags are prohibited under the terms of its lease.

"We said that's nonnegotiable," said Post Commander Terrence House, who served as an Army staff sergeant in Iraq. "That's not going to fly with all these veterans here. We're not backing down."

VFW Post 2377 has been in Glendale Heights for 50 years -- 23 of those in a strip mall on Army Trail Road.

The membership of 246 veterans ranges from local residents who fought in World War II to recent returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some fear the property manager, Midland Realty and Development, is clamping down to force Post 2377 to move so it can attract a tenant who pays more than the $5,200 monthly rent. Officials from Midland did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

"If they can get us out of there, they can probably get triple that amount," House said. But, "most of the guys have been here since Vietnam and they don't want to move."

If the post doesn't comply with the flag prohibition and address other complaints in five days, it would be considered in default of its lease, Midland's letter stated.

When soldiers return from war, "you don't come back as the same person," House explained. "You leave a part of you on the battlefield. You have good days and bad days ... but this is one more element of aggravation we don't need."

Fifteen members of the VFW were scheduled to meet with the property manager Friday morning, but she canceled 10 minutes before the meeting was to begin, House said.

On Sunday, the veterans are planning a rally outside the post at 10 a.m.

Oakbrook Terrace-based Midland became the property manager last August after the Hilltop Shopping plaza, at 142 E. Army Trail Road, was sold, House said. It was at that point, he said, that the VFW began receiving complaint letters from Midland.

One letter alleged that post members were leaving broken beer bottles in the parking lot, though House said he thinks they came from patrons of a hookah lounge next door.

Another complaint, according to House, said VFW members were "inviting crime" by having people smoke in the alley behind the building.

"You're saying members of the Ladies Auxiliary are attracting gang members?" House said.

Then on Monday came the order to take down the flags.

"Your lease expressly addresses that banner signs and flags are prohibited," the Jan. 10 letter from property manager Dawn Stewart stated. "All repairs and violations need to be addressed within the next five days or the lease will be considered to be in default."

House couldn't believe the news when VFW members read the letter to him over the phone last week.

"They were reading all these violations saying flags were prohibited. ... (I thought) this couldn't be right, but sure enough I came to the VFW and I read the letter for myself."

The lease agreement is an old one, House said, explaining the VFW had not signed one with their new landlord.

The village has the veterans' back, said President Linda Jackson, who added her "gut feeling" was that the property owner is trying to make life difficult for Post 2377.

"The village supports the VFW," she said. "They've been a very good organization in town for a lot of years."

Jackson said she hoped newly elected 8th District Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who lost two legs while serving in the Iraq War, could intervene.

Since Midland became the property manager, several improvements have been made, including a new parking lot, facade and roof, according to a brochure on Midland's website, which advertises "space for lease."

Already, House says, the VFW's name has been taken off the advertising board on Army Trail Road.

VFW members met with Jackson on Friday to discuss potential new locations in Glendale Heights. But right now, the sentiment is for staying put, House said.

Moving would be expensive and the organization prefers to use the money it raises to help veterans in need and other charities.

Also, "we have lot of sweat equity built into this place," House said. "Since guys were coming back from Southeast Asia and Vietnam, this has been our home."

Ÿ Daily Herald staff writer Marni Pyke contributed to this report.

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