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American Legion Posts Mark Veterans Day Amid Pandemic

New York Vietnam Veteran Memorial Plaza in Albany
Jim Levulis
New York Vietnam Veteran Memorial Plaza in Albany

Many Veterans Day parades – like in Albany and Pittsfield – have been cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, those cities and other communities are holding outdoor ceremonies to honor the nation’s military veterans. For some of New York’s roughly 800 American Legion posts, Wednesday’s holiday will also look different. 

WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Mike McDermott, a Navy veteran and commander of The American Legion Department of New York.

McDermott: Well, we're trying to follow the rules, a lot of our posts still aren't open yet, because especially down in New York City area because they're smaller posts, and it's just, you know, the things are just getting tougher and tougher for him, you know, or the epidemic and, and people are scared, especially older people and they don't like to come near their posts. Of course, we follow but different rules than say a restaurant because we don't have to serve food. But, we still have to follow the rules stuff, but six feet distance and, you know, come in sign in when you come in with your mask on. So they can track that if anything happens. You know, basically, we're following the same rules where you just don't have to serve food, although some posts do have dinners. But one of the things we're doing for Veterans Day is, as they're still having some of their dinners, like chicken barbecues, but those are all pick-ups, and nobody's coming into the post. And it's reservations and you pull up to their post and they have people take your order in, pick it up, bring it to your car, and off you go. It's just you know, we're just trying to follow the rules. But it's been a tradition in my post and most of the posts, that when they have these dinners, or these drive thru is usually the veterans are free, especially on Veterans Day. I mean, there's also a lot of businesses that do that, like Applebee's and Dunkin’ Donuts, they give the veterans a free dinner or whatever. And it's quite a thing that people don't realize what goes on, not only with their businesses, but with a Legion post. And I'm just very proud of them. There's so many posts that, you know, trying to get back together. Like I said, some of these older members are, they're afraid, and I don't blame him, I'm afraid myself, you know, I've got two grandchildren live with me and they go to school and, of course, are still in elementary. And so it's not as bad as it is for the high school. So everybody has to be careful. You know, you just can't let your guard down on a pandemic, and we're doing the best I can as the Legion. I got to tell you one thing I've been in contact with this young lady. She's got the thing she's trying to do for Veterans Day and, and the American Legion and myself, we support it. What it is she wants to on Veterans Day tomorrow at seven o'clock at night, she wants everybody to either go on her front porch or and sing the Star Spangled Banner. I mean, it's quite a thing. And we actually sent out I did, I sent a letter to all the posts, and also a flyer on what she was trying to do. I sent a letter to the posts, I told them that it's not just you have to do it a seven o'clock because a lot of their ceremonies, your 11 o'clock, which is you know, 11/11 when the war ended, World War I. So, you know, a lot of I told them if you can't do it at seven o'clock and you're at home, but just have a Star Spangled Banner then start your ceremony. And I think a lot of these posters called back and said we'll do something. But a lot of our posts are having ceremonies reach tomorrow, but they're some of them are virtual, you know, over the TV or computers, but others are having them and what they're doing is having their distances. You know, their firing squads. They're having their details six feet apart with a mask and the gloves. And we're just trying to follow the rules. The participation won't be as much you know, as far as crowds coming because people with a virus are staying away. So all the posts are trying to do something although the posts that aren’t open can’t.

Levulis: And when we spoke before Memorial Day, you said that there were a lot of American Legion posts in New York struggling financially amid the shutdowns related to the pandemic, how are they faring now?

Well, I would say the ones that have opened up are doing a little bit better, of course, you know, there's not as many people coming into their post. And they're still trying to like I said, do their dinners and stuff but like i raffles that these posts do, you know, all through the years, they couldn't do them because, you know, they couldn't go out in public and sell tickets, you couldn't come to the post and buy tickets. So some of these posts are really hurting, but you're there is a program that just started nationally where some of these posts can get a grant through our National American Legion for their posts to help them through these tough times, then, some of these posts I haven't opened yet. And I'm afraid we're going to lose some folks, because they just can't afford it. You know, some of these older buildings when the heat comes on, you know, now in the winter, it's going to be really tough for them. They're trying, but I’m afraid we're going to lose of some and these posts are sometimes the hub of the community, you know, and have been for years and we hate to lose them. But the younger members, they've got things to do now also. So we can’t all depend on the Legion to do everything for you anymore.

Levulis: Are you aware of any posts in New York that have had to shut down completely this year?

There's a couple, there's one in my county that they actually would like to sell their building. They're going to stay as a post, but I know it's harder when you don’t have a post home where your veterans can congregate. And that's the only one I've heard of, I think there might be some down near the New York City area, but I haven't heard of it yet. Because we had like we had, we haven't had any conventions or any meetings, we are trying to have a New York State department meeting and we call it midwinter. That's going to be a virtual type thing. Only 50 members are allowed. Just your executive people that are the only ones can be a committee. So these people that normally come to this convention to listen to what's going on, won't be there. But we have to follow the rules that the state puts out for so that's why we're doing it this way. And hopefully, maybe our department convention in the summer things are brighten up that maybe we would have a convention but we still have to carry on business and it's tough, doing things by phone or by online with a computer, but that's the way we have to do things.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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