Celebrating Flag Day — Thanks to Westfield’s Vets

I first met Black Wolf outside a supermarket. Frankly, he looked a little, well, scraggly and I wasn’t sure why he’d pick a name like Black Wolf. I bought a poppy anyway, and had a nice conversation. And, hey, veterans from Vietnam have done a lot weirder things, believe me, than choosing a name.

If Larry wants to be Black Wolf, so be it.

He’s got my support and the support of all of the other veterans in Westfield. Because, in case you don’t know, he’s the poster boy for a court case. He’s the chair of the Honor Guard for all the Westfield veterans.

He’s working with Les Eldridge, a veteran who served in Vietnam, Panama and the Persian Gulf. Les is chair of the Veterans Council this year. And they are not happy campers.

The veterans want an injunction to prevent the Springfield Catholic Diocese from taking flags off of veterans’ graves in St. Mary’s Cemetery. It would also stop the defacing of the flag holders which, veterans allege, the diocese has drilled and bent and ruined and even threatened to remove.

There are 1,500 veterans buried in that cemetery, and 40,000 plots. If the diocese removes the flag holders, how on earth will the veterans find the 1,500 graves that need flags each Memorial Day? And that’s only the practical aspect. There’s the patriotic aspect of saying "thanks" to veterans who served our country. And the personal aspect of respect for members of your family.

Besides that, the diocese wants the veterans to remove the flags within days of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

A Superior Court Judge Peter Velis has already agreed with the veterans and issued a temporary order prohibiting the diocese from removing the flags from the cemetery. But it’s a temporary fix, and the veterans are going forward with a court cases to keep the flags flying from Memorial Day through Veterans Day, just like they have for decades. Six decades to be exact.

In addition to the veterans, families who have relatives buried in St. Mary’s aren’t happy either. They want to continue to plant flowers on the graves–and the diocese has banned that as well.

Now, it’s not often that a Boston newspaper includes articles about Westfield, let alone write an editorial. But the Boston Herald has!

In an editorial this week, the Herald wrote:

"During this year when most Americans have rediscovered the meaning and the sacred beauty of the Stars and Stripes comes one of those stories so amazing you’d think someone had to make it up."

After explaining the circumstances, the paper added that diocese officials should have more significant issues on their minds.

Of course, I agree. And I urge the veterans to carry on their fight. Go, Black Wolf. Go, Les. Go, veterans.

But legal fights cost money, even if a new American–Peter Vickery of Amherst–has volunteered his legal services. And the veterans have started a fund to pay some of the legal costs.

I sent them a check this week. And I urge you to, as well. Westfield Veterans Council Legal Fund, c/o American Legion Post 124, P. O. Box 236, Westfield 01086. If they have anything left after their legal battles, they’ll donate it to the Holyoke Soldiers Home.

Why am I telling you all this? We are celebrating Flag Day this weekend, and I can’t think of any better way to celebrate than by sending a check. Then, watch those flags wave.

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