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Legion honors veterans with luminary bags

The bags remained lit until about 8:30 on Veterans Day; although there was no ceremony, there was plenty of time for people to visit them.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

One of the most striking visuals of the fall season in Medfield is the sight of luminary paper bags adorned with veterans' names that line the walkways of Baxter Park every Veterans Day. But with COVID-19 knocking off so many traditions and annual events, there may have been a fear that Medfield’s Veterans Day tradition would have gone by the wayside.

Instead, the American Legion Auxiliary opted to keep the bags, but abandon the ceremony, in hopes that people would still visit the memorial while not clustering and failing to maintain social distancing rules. Michelle Doucette and two other volunteers were setting up the bags at noon on Veterans Day, and explained the rationale behind the Legion’s decision.

Each bag was given an insert, so that at night the candles would light up their stars.

“For Veterans Day, for the last 14 years, we’ve been doing this luminary thing. Without the pandemic, normally we’d have a ceremony at 5 p.m. where they’d list all of the veterans in the area who passed away since the last Veterans Day; and say a prayer; and all the service flags would be at half-mast; and the veterans who would be here would go behind them and raise them. But we’re not doing that this year, so we’re setting up the luminaries now, we’ll light them at about 4:30, and they’ll stay lit until about 8:30 so people can come down, look at them, and see all the names.”

At night, the stars shine through the bags, as they’re lit with fake tea candles.

The bags are all inscribed with local Medfield veterans, with no differing colors or bag types differentiating what era the veteran served in, what branch of the military, or anything like that. Instead, what the bag should say is left up to the family that purchased them, and added in marker by the Legionnaires.

The people who purchased the bags were in charge of determining what to write on them.

“All the bags are people in Medfield that purchased them in memory of veterans in their families. Some have passed away, some are still currently active in the military, some are veterans who have served but are still around. And then the flagpole, on that sign is all the local Veterans who‘ve passed away since the last Veterans Day. People order the bags, and they say how they want it inscribed. Lots of times they’ll put their rank or what branch they served. Sometimes there will be the dates they served. And sometimes, they're are almost little letters to people.”

This year, there were 170 bags - more than there have been in the last couple of years. Doucette said this might have been because, with everyone at home, more people remembered to order the bags. It means not only that more veterans are being remembered publicly, but that more money is going to go to the charities the American Legion serves.

The bags were lined up during the day and lit at night.

“It’s six dollars a bag, or two for ten. The money goes to the American Legion Auxiliary in Medfield, and we use it for our different programs. We service veterans locally, we support the West Roxbury VA, and then we also do Girls State, and we have a scholarship we give to a graduating senior in honor of Stephen Hinkley.”

In the end, though, the best thing about the luminary bags was that they gave Medfielders a tangible way - albeit perhaps not the full way they are accustomed to - to honor their veterans, despite COVID-19.

“It’s always nice to have the ceremony and to do something, but people will still come up and be able to see the veterans and have a way to remember the veterans, and to honor the veterans and their families.”

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