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After 54 years working for American Airlines, Freddy Schmitt says he just wants the same thing the US Army gave him six decades ago -- an honorable discharge. Instead, the 82-year-old WWII vet was handed his walking papers after allegedly using a derogatory term for gays during a workplace bull session about "Don't Ask Don't Tell."
The fact that Schmitt was defending gay soldiers' right to serve -- "Back then, a faggot coulda saved my life" -- hasn't changed the airline's decision. Neither has his blemish-free employment record, nor the pleas of former JFK co-workers upset over the axing of their buddy known as "Papa Freddy."
Schmitt had little to say about the remark in December that got him fired last month as a ground-crew worker following a suspension and two hearings. He just wishes he could have stayed on the job until November, when he was planning to retire with a milestone under his belt. "It would look nice, going out with 55 years," Schmitt said. "After 54 years, all I want is to go out in good faith."
Nobody disputes that Schmitt -- a baggage crew chief -- used the term, or that the pugnacious Brooklyn native didn't exactly grovel with remorse when reprimanded by a supervisor. But the context should be taken into account, say Schmitt's former airline crewmates.
Under the terms of the firing, Schmitt retains his pension but loses his health benefits -- and the travel privileges his wife of 45 years, Viola, so enjoyed.