BROOKSVILLE — At a time when American men and women are fighting and dying in two wars, banishing a years-old community photo tribute to military personnel may not be the wisest corporate decision.
Especially in Hernando County, with a significant population of military veterans, many of whom are customers.
This may explain why the retail giant Wal-Mart has relented and allowed a photo display to return to the front of its supercenter on Broad Street.
The Wall of Honor, begun in 2003 by store workers to show support for the troops, was removed in recent weeks as the store underwent a full-blown makeover as part of Wal-Mart's Project Impact initiative.
Store manager Steve Smith said earlier this month that the 5- by 15-foot display "was not part of the fresh, clean, uncluttered look'' of the remodeling effort and "did not fit into the schematic of the new design.''
Predictably, that move did not sit well with some of the 24,055 military veterans in this county of 171,689 people.
Within days of an Oct. 1 story in the St. Petersburg Times about the board's removal, the complaints started coming in and the corporate wheels began turning.
Now, the pictures are back, albeit in a limited fashion.
The original Wall of Honor contained photos of veterans dating to World War II. The new display, which has much less space, is being dedicated to newly minted veterans.
What led to Wal-Mart's change of heart is anyone's guess. Smith, the manager, declined to discuss the details and referred questions to the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
Repeated calls for comment yielded no responses.
To one Hernando County veteran, the answer is obvious.
"With the economy the way it is, they don't want to lose customers,'' said John Stenger of Brooksville, a 72-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War.
"I can't understand why they would want to take on veterans organizations and irate mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts,'' said Stenger, adding that he had notified members of three veterans groups he belongs to here and in New Jersey.
"I'd say the complaints got their attention,'' he said.
Bringing back the photos, even in a smaller display, is "a terrific move on their part,'' he said. "Anything is better than nothing.''
The photo board, which is now protected by a glass case, will be overseen by employees of the store's Vision Center, Smith said.
"Wal-Mart has always been committed to work with veterans organizations in many ways,'' Smith said. "We're eager to help.''
Ironically, the October edition of a Wal-Mart employees' magazine, WalmartWorld, features a story and photos of a massive veterans picture display in a store in Palatka.
That store's year-round Wall of Honor holds hundreds of photos of veterans and "is a focal point for the community,'' according to manager Weldon Taylor, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War whose photo is on the wall.
The story notes that such displays are part of the company's efforts to honor military personnel during the month leading up to Veterans Day.
Whether the display at the Brooksville store will be allowed to remain past the holiday is unknown.
Greg Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com or at (352) 754-6113.