BAR HARBOR, Maine — A local cultural war over the town council’s decision to have a Christmas tree veterans’ memorial removed from a waterfront park may be going national.

The O’Reilly Factor, a popular program on Fox News hosted by Bill O’Reilly, sent a correspondent to Bar Harbor to question members of the town council about their decision to not allow Wreaths Across America to keep its display in Agamont Park, overlooking the local harbor. The memorial consisted of a live, planted fir tree wrapped with Christmas lights and a plaque dedicating the display to “those men and women who in service to our country, were separated from loved ones during the holiday season.”

The plaque also noted that “regardless of religious beliefs or creed their sacrifice must always be remembered.”

With the town’s approval, Wreaths Across America put the memorial display in place in July 2011. But last month, the council voted to not allow it to continue and have the group remove the plaque. The decision has rankled people who believe the lights and plaque were an appropriate and nondiscriminatory way to honor veterans.

The plaque was removed last weekend by Wreaths Across America and moved to a new site in Columbia Falls where another tree will remain perpetually lit.

During the public comment period of Tuesday’s council meeting, Jesse Watters, the correspondent from the O’Reilly Factor, raised the issue of the display’s removal with councilors. After describing the display as a symbol of “hope, peace and understanding,” Watters asked council members to explain their decision to have it removed.

Bob Garland, a member of the council and a veteran, said he voted against renewing WAA’s lease for the site because he didn’t think it was a good fit for Bar Harbor.

“I’m not against veterans in any way, shape or form,” Garland said. “How could I be? I’m one myself.”

He added that he’s been “astounded” by the nature of comments on the matter that have been directed his way.

“It was a pretty vulnerable type of memorial,” Garland said. “It tended to get blown around a lot. The lights tended to get in a state of disarray.”

After several more minutes of discussion, at which point Council Chairman Ruth Eveland cut Watters off so the board could get on with its other business, Watters finished up with a final comment.

“I think I understand where Bar Harbor stands,” Watters said. “I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....