The Norwalk Incident
To the Editor:
In his article “Thirty Days That Shook Norwalk” (April), James Rorty did not spare the whip in singling out for criticism all factions involved in the so-called Norwalk incident.
On the whole, however, I believe Mr. Rorty tried to do an objective piece of reporting. None of the disputants, including the VFW, can honestly feel they have won a victory from Rorty’s article. In my opinion, the so-called Norwalk incident was a comedy of errors exaggerated out of all proportion, and I think Mr. Rorty has ably pointed this out.
The national organization of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has never advocated or encouraged the formation of secret committees, vigilante tactics, or witch hunts, but rather has advocated compliance with the procedure recommended by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Careful investigation and interrogation of VFW leaders in the Norwalk area disclosed no evidence of a secret committee or any intention on the part of VFW officers and members to engage in vigilante tactics, witch hunting, or the smearing of innocent persons.
I agree with Mr. Rorty that most of the publicity, which did credit to no one and did not benefit the community, could have been avoided if men of good will had sat down together in an effort to clear up misunderstandings.
Leland P. Lovette
Director of Public Relations
Veterans of Foreign Wars
To the Editor:
The practice of coloring facts to influence a conclusion may be marketable among some lawyers, but on a reporter, it does not look so good. In his article “Thirty Days That Shook Norwalk,” James Rorty describes what happened after the announced VFW spy hunt as follows: “Quickly the alarm sounded on the liberal front. . . telephones rang, and cocktail parties buzzed.”
As a matter of fact, the decision to oppose the VFW was made at a routine meeting of a neighborhood ADA group at which most of the members had not even heard of the VFW committee. The spy hunt was only one of a number of topics discussed at this regular monthly gathering. Needless to say, none of us had any idea that our newspaper ad would generate interest outside of Norwalk.
Mr. Rorty goes on to suggest that ADA was wrong to assume the VFW really had a spy-hunting committee just because the VFW announced it publicly and confirmed it constantly over a period of weeks. We still believe a confession is pretty good evidence. Whether or not a committee did exist (and there is ample evidence to prove it did), allowing witch-hunt announcements to pass unopposed only serves to encourage misdirected vigilante action.
I agree with Mr. Rorty when he suggests there are other ways of combating neighbor-spying besides arousing public condemnation as the ADA did. But anybody acquainted with the glee the VFW felt at the initial publicity of their spy hunt would have realized the impossibility of appealing to them on a civil rights basis. By the time Mr. Rorty appeared on the scene, the VFW spokesmen had done a good bit of sobering up.
I do not blame Mr. Rorty for trying to find a new angle on the overworked Norwalk incident, but I wish he had carried his investigations a little further. It almost seems as if he drove up to Commander Beres’s Norwalk gasoline station, filled his tank, and went home.
Thomas A. Gaines
Mr. Rorty writes:
I am afraid Mr. Gaines “colors the facts” a bit when he suggests that I made only one stop in Norwalk. Actually, I spent three days there and in Wilton and Westport, interviewed a dozen people personally and as many more by telephone, and went through the ADA’s clip file in the home of Devere Allen. Finally, I interviewed Admiral Lovette, the VFWs national public-relations officer in Washington—something that might, I think, have occurred to the ADA if it was really convinced, apparently without even trying, of “the impossibility of appealing to them [the Norwalk VFW Post] on a civil rights basis.”
Incidentally, Mr. Gaines really should re-read my article. I didn’t blame the ADA for becoming alarmed by the VFW Post’s stupid and alarming recruiting publicity. I merely reported local opinion, with which I found myself agreeing, that before squaring off at the VFW in print it might have been well to appeal to the local VFW officers to correct the impression, which their publicity unquestionably conveyed, that they were engaging in activities for which “witch hunt” is the appropriate word, although the VFW doesn’t believe in witch hunting and Admiral Lovette assures me that no VFW post has ever practiced it—not even in Norwalk.
Maybe the ADA aborted a spy hunt, but I strongly doubt it. I also doubt that it is sound liberalism to assume that all veterans are congenital witch hunters, impossible to talk to, merely because an occasional post elects a blabber-mouth as commander. Some of my best friends are veterans; in fact I’m one myself, and come to think of it, Mr. Gaines probably is too.