SHIRLEY -- In a letter dated April 2, American Legion Post #183 Commander Lewis Criess informed the Board of Selectmen that the Legion will not be hosting a Memorial Day parade and reception this year and indicated that it's the town's turn to take over the annual observation.
In a tradition that dates back many years, Shirley's American Legion, George J. Morin Post #183, has planned and held a roster of Memorial Day events to honor the nation's departed military heroes that began in the morning with solemn wreath-laying ceremonies and the playing of Taps at town cemeteries, followed later by a parade and ceremonies at Whiteley Park, with speakers.
Afterward, a collation was held at Legion Hall in the War Memorial Building on Church Street, hosted by the Legion and the Legion auxiliary.
With just six weeks until Memorial Day, the notice was seen by selectmen as being short, thus the ceremonies will be limited this year.
In the letter, Criess wrote, "The American Legion Post 183 will conduct brief memorial ceremonies at the cemeteries and the bridge to honor our departed comrades, but that is the extent of our engagement this year."
The reason for the change, he said, was that the Legion post "does not have sufficient active membership to support a parade or luncheon" as in past years.
"We hope the town will plan and conduct these activities, remembering the importance of and the solemn occasion of the day to honor those who gave their lives during combat operations in defense of our country," Criess continued in the letter.
He added that if the town wants to use the town-owned War Memorial Building for a Memorial Day luncheon, the Legion should be notified so it can be reserved, reminding the board that "those who reserve the facilities" are responsible for pre-event set up and after-event cleanup, as is the case for "all War Memorial rentals."
Criess signed the letter "on behalf of the Executive Committee and Post Membership."
After reading the letter aloud Monday night, Dumont said she was "stunned" at its contents. After receiving it, she asked Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to contact the commander to let him know the matter would be discussed at the April 14 meeting so that someone representing the Legion could attend.
His e-mail response basically said the matter was resolved as far as the Legion was concerned. "The Legion membership has made their position perfectly clear," Criess wrote. "It now is up to the Town of Shirley to decide if they want to conduct the other activities associated with Memorial Day observances."
Criess said that neither he nor "any member of the American Legion Post" would attend the selectmen's meeting "to address this subject" and further stated that as the post commander, he is "the only person authorized to speak for the Post on this matter."
Dumont said she was taken aback by the "negative tone" of Criess's letter and the e-mail response to the board's outreach.
Having worked with three past commanders during her tenure as a selectman, Dumont said none of them "ever sent such a negative letter."
The board would have been "more than happy to help out" as they have in the past, she said, if someone had asked. "Sounds more like a dictatorship to me," she said.
"I'm stunned too," Selectman David Swain said, noting the timing of the letter and the fact that the Legion has always planned and conducted Memorial Day observances in the past. "If this was an issue, they should have let us know months ago," Swain said.
"This community is very supportive of our veterans," Dumont said. She recommended forming a parade and celebration committee "so we don't end up like this" again next year.
Selectman Robert Prescott agreed. Besides ensuring that wreaths are properly placed at the cemeteries, a committee consisting of townspeople and, hopefully, veterans and Legion members could plan next year's activities, he said.
Anyone interesting in signing up for the Parade and Celebration Committee can contact the town administrator, the selectmen said.