WESTFIELD- Several chapters of the American Legion in Massachusetts donated $1,800 to Stanley Park Saturday Sept. 26 for the purpose of adding five new stones to the veteran’s monument with the 76 names of those who died this past spring due to COVID-19 at the Soldiers’ Home at Hoyoke.
Representatives from American Legion Posts 102, 275, and 373 presented multiple checks totalling about $1,800 to Stanley Park Director Robert McKean in a ceremony Saturday morning. Post 443 also contributed to the donations, but was not present at the ceremony.
Paul Lyons, the senior vice commander of Post 373 out of Baldwinville said that his post had become close with the veterans at the Soldiers’ Home in recent years. Beginning in 2014, Post 373 hosted an annual fundraiser barbeque at the Soldiers’ Home.
Lyons’ wife, Laurie Lyons, the senior vice president of Post 373, talked about the heartbreaking news that so many of the veterans they knew at the home were getting sick and passing away from COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic.
“At the beginning of the year, when COVID-19 became the dangerous virus that it is and changed the world we live in, we all had been following the sad news of sickness and deaths occurring at the Soldiers’ Homes in Holyoke and Chelsea,” said Laurie Lyons, “But our hearts were heavy as the numbers started to change and some of our dear friends, whom we met on our yearly visits at the Holyoke Home, were in ill health or were passing away.”
McKean originally offered for the park to pay to have the engraved stones added to the monument, but the pandemic affected everyone’s finances and he quickly realized that the park would not be able to pay the cost in full.
Not wanting to add undue financial stress to the families of those who died, the American Legion chapters offered to pay the remaining cost. They needed to raise $1,100 to pay for the stones.
Each of the five blocks can have 12 veteran’s names and information engraved on them. After being handed the donations, McKean, a veteran himself, addressed the crowd of American Legion Riders at the monument.
“I just want to salute you all. I am honored and humbled to take this,” said McKean.
The day before the ceremony, former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh and Medical Director Dr. David Clinton were indicted on criminal charges in connection with their handling of the outbreak in the home.
Part of the reason the virus spread so rapidly through the home was the decision to keep healthy veterans and those who tested positive for COVID, or with symptoms, in the same overcrowded unit, a move that was allegedly made due to staffing shortages.