WESTFIELD-As Westfield Kiwanis members once again host its To Serve & Protect Park of Honor next month, one past president felt compelled to acknowledge the veterans who died earlier this year at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.
“Betty and I felt that these veterans needed to be recognized for their service to our country and in addition that they passed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Frank Sposito. “We had connections to these veterans through friends, family and our church.”
The couple purchased 76 flags which represents the deaths of at least 76 residents at the Holyoke facility. The state attorney general’s office recently indicted superintendent Bennett Walsh and former medical director David Clinton on criminal neglect charges for their roles in the deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
“The flags will be around the POW flag in an area to the side,” said Sposito, adding, “there will also be some comments made during the Nov. 1 ceremony.”
Individuals, families and businesses can sponsor a flag in honor of someone, past or present, and each flag will be displayed with a ribbon containing information about the person each flag honors as well as the sponsor’s name.
The Park of Honor is observed on the front lawn at the Westfield Middle School across from Parker Memorial Park. A brief ceremony is slated Nov. 1 at 2 p.m. to kick off the Park of Honor.
”It is my hope that we can still have our ceremony but we will require masks and six feet of social distancing,” said Kellie Brown, a longtime Kiwanis member and past president. “Our crowd has traditionally been a small crowd so I do not see this as a problem.”
Flags are now available for purchase until Oct. 28 by sending a check for $30 for one flag or $100 for four flags to Westfield Kiwanis Foundation, P.O. Box 773, Westfield, MA 01086-0522. A form on the Kiwanis Club website – www.westfieldkiwanis.org – must be completed and included with the check. For persons who do not have a computer, contact Brown weekdays at (413) 562-2301 and she can email or mail a copy to interested individuals.
Brown is hopeful that area residents will once again support the Park of Honor, now in its fourth year.
“This is our way of honoring all those past and present who gave and give their all to protect us,” said Brown, noting keepsake flags can be purchased to honor active duty military, veterans, law enforcement officers, firefighters or first responders.
“The honor park will include 3’ by 5’ American flags and will be on display Nov. 1-28. Area residents are welcome to walk through the flags, read the names, listen to and share their stories of themselves, family members, friends and others who have given in many different ways to protect this country.
Sponsors may pick up their keepsake flag Nov. 28 at 10 a.m. at the Westfield Middle School or after that date at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Westfield on West Silver Street.
“Last year we sold 122 flags,” said Brown, noting that funds raised are distributed through camp scholarships for local youth.
“There is no financial requirement for these scholarships,” said Brown, adding only that a parent or grandparent has served.
“We have given away over $3,000 in camp scholarships but due to the pandemic this year we could not give camp scholarships so we purchased a bench for Stanley Park in memory of all those who serve and protect.”
For the past three years, Kiwanian Marcia Sanford of Westfield has purchased flags to recognize family members and neighbors.
“First of all, I love our flag and what it stands for,” said Sanford. “I love the military for what they do and how they sacrifice their lives to give us our freedom.”
Over the past three years, Sanford has recognized the Westfield Police Department, Westfield Fire Department, and the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base.
“This year I am putting up a flag for my grandson who is 32 and just graduated from the U.S. Army Guard in South Carolina,” said Sanford, adding, “he graduated with a high award and will start training for officer candidate school.”
Sanford encourages area residents to consider purchasing a flag this fall.
“I love doing this,” said Sanford. “I am so proud when I see all those flags blowing in the breeze for a good cause.”