DERRY — Disparaging comments about an elderly veteran who was given a new home have caused a backlash among advocates and local officials.
Larry Riemer, 80, was given the keys last month to a one-story home on his Island Pond Road property built by community groups and volunteers, without town funding. He’d spent 16 years living in a shack on the property since a fire gutted his home in 2001 and he couldn’t afford to rebuild.
Riemer’s background was questioned last week by Kevin Coyle and Janet Fairbanks on their July 17 public access show, “Up Close and Political.” A day later, resident Marc Flattes spoke at the Town Council meeting, asking the members to look into Riemer's service and questions about the ownership of the property.
Councilor Jim Morgan and representatives of the Derry Veterans Assistance Fund, which helped pay for the new home, say they rigorously vet people who before helping them.
Morgan said he’s seen Riemer's discharge papers. He was in the U.S. Air Force from June 1954 to May 1956.
Riemer offered his ID from the Department of Veterans Affairs and a VA insurance card as further proof of his service.
Speaking at the same meeting, Morgan chastised those who questioned Riemer's service.
"Am I emotional? Yes. Am I upset? Yes,” he said. “Because you know what? When this community takes a path and takes on a commitment of such a great level and provides what we provided, for the community to have someone come in and disparage that classlessly for the point of grandstanding, is absolutely abhorrent.”
Coyle and Fairbanks said they were prompted to talk about Riemer by online comments posted to Derry News and Eagle-Tribune stories about Riemer’s new house.
A commenter calling himself Chris Riemer alleged that Riemer was his father, but was not present in his life and was not a veteran. Repeated attempts to reach the commenter were unsuccessful. However, Riemer said that he does not have a son named Christopher. Riemer does have son named Richard, as well as three daughters.
After reading the comments aloud during the show, Coyle referred to Riemer as a “deadbeat dad" and said that Morgan hadn't done his homework on the veteran's past.
Coyle said he brought the comments forward because Morgan had said Riemer owns his property, and he believes Riemer's sisters are the ones who own it. A check of town assessor's records confirms that the property is owned by Riemer, who stated the the land will go to his wife and children when he dies.
Coyle said he never vouched for the web commenter's claim as accurate.
"If that's true — and I don't know whether it is or not — it's interesting who you are helping," he said.
Coyle intends to address the situation further on "Up Close and Political" this week.
Coyle is a neighbor of Riemer’s, owning a small landlocked parcel adjacent to Riemer's.
Riemer said Coyle has expressed interest in buying more land, though Coyle denied the claim and said the two have never spoken.
Since the broadcast, Derry Community Television has begun a review of its policies.
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said people who have shows that degrade the town should be ashamed.
Riemer and Ernie St. Pierre, who is vice president of the veterans fund, have said they are considering legal recourse.
"I don't want trouble. But, if (Coyle) keeps this up, I'll consider a lawsuit," Riemer said.
The questions about him are frustrating, said Riemer, who has insisted that he is not a hero for his service. He also suggested that the house be given to someone younger who would get more use from it.
"I just want to live in peace," he said.