East Aurora Advertiser Columnist Rick Ohler filed this story.
It hasn’t been lost on veterans in East Aurora and vicinity that communities close by and throughout the state have given those who served a place of honor on light stands along major thoroughfares. Next year, our community will begin its own salute to veterans, with banners up and down Main Street, thanks to a joint effort by Mayor Peter Mercurio, veteran Bill Lewis, Maria Improta of the East Aurora PTO and Matt Hay from the East Aurora Village Department of Public Works.
“It was at the Memorial Day service when we were all together at the cemetery that Jim Suttell, village resident, active leader with the Vietnam Veterans, asked me about the possibility of a scaled down Fourth of July parade,” Mercurio said. “I said we’d get together and make something happen. Which we did. That’s when Bill Lewis, also a vet and member of the Legion Post 362, joined the conversation to suggest that we should start hanging banners with photos of veterans on Main Street. Over the next few months we organized the parade and kept talking about the banners.”
Mercurio’s day job takes him all over the state, frequently into small towns.
“I would see banners in towns, so I’d stop and take photos, which I sent to Bill Lewis. Gradually we hit on a design we liked.”
Lewis made contact with Hae Jude Signs, a printer in Silver Creek.
“Originally we thought the banners would be the same size as the classic winter flags we put up around Christmas. But then we thought of the banners we use for the high school seniors, which are much bigger. I thought we should pay as much respect to the vets as we do to the graduating seniors. I asked Maria Improta at the PTO if we could use her brackets and she said definitely. Matt Hay said his crew would be able to hang the banners probably two weeks before Veterans Day and leave them up until it’s time to put up the holiday decorations—three or four weeks later.”
The banners will cost $40 per veteran represented. Lewis is the point man for the campaign. He’s looking for a color photograph of the veteran, preferably in uniform, along with his or her name, rank and branch of service. Photos can be mailed to Bill Lewis, 2162 Lewis Rd., South Wales, NY 14139. Contact him at 716-984-9984. Information also available on the East Aurora Post 362 Facebook page or at the Legion on Center Street.
“If people want to kick in a few extra dollars, that would help us with veterans for whom the cost would be a burden. We don’t want anyone left out because of the cost.”
With 108 lamp posts on Main Street; the two-sided banners can handle 216 veterans. The PTO will let the village borrow its 83 brackets; the village will purchase the rest. Unlike the banners for the high school seniors, which the graduates take home when they come down, these will be stored and reused year after year.
“We might put several banners up in late winter as a preview just to kick the campaign into gear,” Mercurio said. “That way, if people see them and want to honor a family member past or present, they can contact Bill Lewis, get him a photo and start the process. We’re all about community here, and if we can do anything to honor and respect the commitment veterans made for us, we’ll do it. It’s the least we can do.”
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