Friday, February 17, 2012
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Lincoln Legion begins early planning for special Memorial Day event

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[February 17, 2012]  Tuesday morning a group of volunteers gathered in the small conference room at American Legion Post 263 in Lincoln. The group consisted of members of the Legion and Legion Auxiliary, and they were on a mission of love.

Choosing Valentine's Day as their campaign launch date, the group started a project that will last through the spring and culminate in a spectacular event on Memorial Day, May 28.

The plan is to launch 1,000 balloons at 1 p.m. on Memorial Day, with the balloons containing names of veterans. The balloons will be red, white, blue and gold. The gold balloons will have the special distinction of carrying the names of soldiers who gave their lives in service to their country.

On Tuesday the group was working on several different projects. Laura Slayton, Karen Schwantz and Suzann Lolling, president of the Legion Auxiliary, were working on sending out letters to other Legion posts, areas businesses and more. All receiving the letters, including Legion posts outside the region, are being invited to come to the Memorial Day event in Lincoln. They are also being invited to submit the names of soldiers from far and wide.

Schwantz was also busy adding names to paper balloons and keeping track of the money being submitted with the names.


Tecia Hennessey was helping husband Dave mount paper balloons on red, white and blue strips of ribbon to be hung in the public hallway of the Legion.

As Dave went to get supplies, Tecia explained the paper balloons. Each balloon has one name on it. If the balloon is gold-colored, that signifies a fallen soldier. Also adorning the balloons are foil stars. Each star on the balloon signifies a person who submitted that soldier's name. Hennessey pointed out one gold balloon, saying this young person has thus far had about 25 people submit his name.

In addition to the balloons, there are flag-shaped cut-outs with the names of sponsors of the balloon launch. These are folks who may not have a name to submit but still want to support the effort.

At the beginning of their work Tuesday morning, Marlene Schrader said they had already collected over 300 names of veterans. And looking at the stars on the array of little paper balloons, many of those names had been submitted multiple times.

Each time someone enters a name, they include a $1 donation to the Legion and Auxiliary. The money will be used to finance various programs the local Legion provides for local vets.

Laura Slayton talked about the Legion and the Auxiliary. She said she's been a part of the women's organization for a decade, and she is always amazed at the number of things the group does for local veterans.


Slayton is also the one who came up with the idea of launching 1,000 balloons. It comes from a ceremony she used to have with her students when she was a teacher at West Lincoln-Broadwell. She said the event was a great learning moment for the kids, as it gave them an opportunity to think about our soldiers and what they have done for our country and our freedoms.

Slayton said this is the same thing she is hoping for this year. She wants families to come together and participate in the launch. She said it would open a door for parents or grandparents to talk to their children about their own experiences in the military or about a family member who lost their life in service.

In addition to bringing families out, the group is going to work with local nursing homes to see if arrangements can be made to bring residents, especially veterans, to the event. Slayton said this would offer another blending of young and old and give both a chance to grow by interacting with each other.

She ended by saying that what she wanted to see was a living tribute to all veterans in the coming together of the community for this special launch.

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The group expects to have many more than 1,000 names to put inside the balloons, and that is OK. They said they would put multiple names inside each balloon and would be happy to see two, three or four names in each and every one.

Once the balloons are launched, they will waft to the sky and take whatever course the wind gives them. Eventually, though, they will come down, and no one can know for sure when or where that will be.

Inside the balloons, on the special papers with the names, will be contact information for the Lincoln Legion. The group is hoping that when the balloons come down and are found, the finders will contact the Lincoln organization and tell them when and where the balloons were found.

In addition to working on the launch project, the group was anxious to share a very special gift they received from the entire WLB student population.

Dave Hennessey brought in a massive paper flag and unrolled it on a table for the group to look at. The base of the artwork on the flag is the youthful handprints of children. The prints were made using the hands of the kindergarten through fourth-grade students dipped in red and blue paint and stamped on the paper as red stripes and the blue background for the field of stars.

White stars have been cut out of paper and mounted in the blue corner of the flag with a child's name on each star. Along the red stripes, the kids have signed their names in red marker.

Slayton said Becky Maxwell and her classroom helper, Jeanie Boyer, who work in the kindergarten class, had come up with the idea of the flag and coordinated the schoolwide effort.

Lolling and Schrader had explained that the Legion used to have a similar flag from WLB, but when the Legion building burned over a decade ago, that flag was lost in the fire.

The new flag will soon be mounted and covered with Plexiglas and then mounted in the hall for everyone to see.

The May 28 launch will be one of three events going on at the Legion that day. At 10:30 in the morning, the Legion will host its traditional Memorial Day ceremony, followed by a ham-and-bean lunch at noon, then the balloon launch at 1 p.m.

Lolling said the day had purposely been divided into three events so that it might be easier for visiting Legions to attend their own events before noon and still make it to Lincoln for the launch in the afternoon.

She also added that all three Lincoln events are open to the public, and she is hopeful that local residents will come out for all of them in a show of support and love for all our veterans.


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