SENECA FALLS — The Seneca Falls Town Board on Tuesday night voted down a resolution expressing opposition to the National Women's Hall of Fame over its induction of actress Jane Fonda because of her controversial visit to Vietnam.
The resolution was defeated 4-1, with one abstention vote counting against. If passed, it would have ended any financial donations, cooperation or in-kind services from the town to the Hall.
More than 150 people attended the board's meeting Monday, with numerous speakers representing the Hall, local veterans groups, or just themselves speaking for or against the resolution over the course of nearly two hours.
Fonda visited North Vietnam in 1972 during the midst of the Vietnam War — a visit that included an infamous picture of her sitting atop an anti-aircraft gun — sparking widespread controversy that still did not sit well with many of the gathered veterans Tuesday.
Several current and former members of the Hall of Fame board spoke in support of Fonda's inclusion, and also highlighted the Hall's positive impact on both the town and the region's economy and reputation.
The Hall of Fame board's incoming and outgoing presidents, Betty Bayer and Kate Bennett, both also noted that the board does not have a role in the induction process. Rather, members of the public nominate potential inductees which are then reviewed by an independent panel of judges.
Bennett, speaking to the veterans in attendance, said there was "no question" that many Americans did not know how to be grateful for their service, and said Fonda — who Bennett said had a number of accomplishments beyond the controversy she since apologized for — was not the first or last controversial woman inducted into the hall.
Similarly, Bayer said Fonda's inclusion would partly serve as a mechanism to start a discussion for "emotional repair from historical events."
Multiple Vietnam veterans, conversely, described Fonda as "treasonous," and said her inclusion in the Hall was disrespectful to them.
Seneca Falls Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1323 Commander David Ostroski said that, years after the war, its veterans were still not respected, and Fonda's inclusion — which he said he would never step foot in the Hall over — is another instance of that.
"To put her picture there is disrespectful to us, to every veteran,"Ostroski said.
A common theme among several veteran speakers was that there are plenty of other women more worthy of inclusion than Fonda.
Veteran Vernon Brewer II, echoing similar comments from fellow veteran Gene Simes, suggested nurses who tended to wounded in Vietnam or the mothers who lost sons to the conflict should be included over Fonda, saying she treated prisoners of war during her visit like "scum."
"How could anyone nominate this woman in the Hall of Fame?" Brewer asked.
When it came time to vote, several board members said they didn't care for Fonda, but their primary reason in voting against it was that it was not the town government's place to dictate what a private entity like the Hall decides to do.
"We shouldn't be put in this position," Avery said.
Board member Doug Avery also said the text of the resolution was flawed, as it mischaracterized an approximately $250,000 donation from the town and an approximately $420,000 transfer to the Hall.
The donation, Avery said, referring to Bayer's comments, was a match to help the grant secure a $2.5 million grant that later turned into $8 million in investments. For the $420,000, the town was only acting as a pass through for a grant from the state.
Board member Lou Ferrara read a letter from a fellow veteran and a former Seneca Falls resident that he said convinced him to vote against it.
The letter Ferrara read said the town did not need to vote for the resolution, as Fonda already "knows how much contempt veterans have for her."
Ferrara also became emotional when reading a list of friends he had known as a boy that were lost to the war, and said they had died to protect the freedom for Americans to do what they feel is right.
Supervisor Greg Lazzaro, who introduced the resolution last week, read his own letter from a Texas resident whose father died in Vietnam.
The letter said the "angst and fury" people feel toward Fonda is justified, and said that Fonda's apology more than a decade after her visit was meaningless. The letter ended by suggesting that Sharon Lane, the only combat nurse in Vietnam killed by direct fire, be inducted over Fonda.
Ultimately, the resolution was defeated, with only Lazzaro voting in support for it. Board member Dave DeLelys abstained, saying he could not in good conscience vote for or against it.