Letter campaign illustrates reason to remember
May 26, 2010
Longtime Allenton resident Eva Bassier took us up on our requests for story ideas.
A few weeks ago, Eva sent in some articles that appeared in veterans' publications—the April American Legion Magazine and the May VFW Magazine.
In her note, Eva talks of her husband, Fred, who passed away on Sept. 22, 2009.
A member of the VFW Post in Berville and the American Legion Post in Almont, Eva recalls that Fred attended every Memorial Day ceremony at Burley Park in Almont—something I know because he was often pictured in our photos of the event. He was always surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren—believing it was important to pass along the significance of service to once's country, the sacrifices made by many, the human impact of war to generations who follow.
"People are forgetting what Memorial Day means," says Eva in her note.
The thought may have been prompted by one of the articles she sent along. In the 'Rapid Fire' column, under the mini-headline 'Legionnaires in Action,' the story reads in part:
On Nov. 19, 2009, Walmart's senior manager of executive communications sent American Legion Post 378 in Gulf Breeze, Fla. a letter that elicited applause from Legionnaires and veterans nationwide. Starting in 2010, Walmart stores in the United States will discontinue the sale of fireworks until after Memorial Day.
"Somehow the true meaning of Memorial Day has gotten lost in all the backyard barbeques, beach parties and sales," says Mike Esmond, Post 378's Americanism chairman. "It's a day to honor veterans' memories, not celebrate their deaths."
Esmond wasn't aware that Walmart sold fireworks on Memorial Day until last May. He immediately resumed a letter-writing campaign that he started back in 2002 in response to a local Winn-Dixie's sale of fireworks on Memorial Day.
The thought of fireworks being sold on a day devoted to honoring and remembering the sacrifice of the nation's fallen servicemenbers inspired Esmond and his fellow Legionnaires to write letters in the hope of changing how Americans regard the holiday. Their persistence paid off when Winn-Dixie agreed to discontinue selling fireworks on Memorial Day, but for that year only.
"We had won the battle, but not the war," Esmond said. In 2009 he choose a new and bigger target, Walmart.
Starting last May, Legionnaires sent letters urging Walmart managers to discontinue selling fireworks on a day when Americans should be "honoring the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect this great nation, and not celebrating their deaths," Esmond said. Seven months later, Walmart changed its policy.
"I jumped out of my chair with excitement, and then I sat down and cried because I knew I was holding in my hands a letter that would make a difference in changing the mindset of a lot of Americans in the way they think about Memorial Day," Esmond said.
"For six months, I have gone around to posts asking them to write letters to condemn Walmart for selling fireworks. Now I'm going back asking them to write letters complimenting Walmart."
It appears Eva, too, is a 'Legionnaire in Action.' Taking action to do whatever she can to make sure people remember what Memorial Day is all about. Exercising an important freedom. The freedom to write letters, hold rallies, protest, speak out, affirm, support ideas and decisions is among the ideals asserted as reasons for war. It is what many fought and died for.
Anyone at Almont's Memorial Day ceremony this Monday will see Eva and her children and their children there. Their family has been shown by example that it's important to remember. A memorial to many whose lives were forever altered—some cut short—for the ideals and promise of U.S. democracy. If this is forgotten, we will truly be lost.
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Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.