Memorial Day is typically a busy day at American Legion Post 560 in Garden Oaks. Local veterans gather for a flag ceremony, to recognize the soldiers who died during the previous year and to have a barbecue cookout that’s open to all members of the community.
On Monday, though, the building at 3720 Alba Rd. likely will be empty. Post 560 has been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its annual Memorial Day celebration has been scrapped as a safety precaution.
“When you’re not able to reach out and be around the people that understand you most, it takes a toll,” said Naro Mak, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who serves as 3rd Vice Commander for Post 560. “It takes a toll, because this is the one day we get to celebrate together, and we don’t get that.
“It’s kind of like the virus stole that day from veterans.”
But the legionnaires at Post 560 have found a creative way to take the holiday back and honor the soldiers who have fallen while fighting for their country. They created a video that’s nearly 5 minutes long and has been posted to Facebook and YouTube, where veterans in the area and beyond can participate in Memorial Day from the safety of their own homes.
Mak is one of 13 legion officers and members who appears in the video, in which they take turns discussing the significance of Memorial Day, the history behind the holiday and some of its traditions, including observing one minute of silence at 3 p.m. Also included is a tribute to former legion board member Robert Lawrence “Bob” Weggemann Sr., a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War and died in December.
The video was filmed over the span of two days last weekend and edited by Will Spencer, a U.S. Army veteran who serves as adjutant for Post 560.
“For it being the first attempt, I thought it was great,” Spencer said. “We can kind of use this as a learning opportunity to make it better.”
Spencer said the video was the brainchild of Peggy Mondy, who served in the Marines during the Korean War, and her daughter, Catherine Mondy-Boyce, an auxiliary member of Post 560 who promotes the legion and helps organize events. Mondy-Boyce said it was something special the post could do during a time when it has not been able to do much.
Post 560 has a bar where local veterans usually congregate and socialize, but bars in the Houston area were required to close March 17 and could not reopen until Friday. Monthly bingo games and steak nights, which serve as regular fundraisers for Post 560, have not been held since February.
Mondy-Boyce said the legion’s Easter festivities could not be held either.
Post 560 has been unable to conduct its regular outreach to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, where it regularly visits hospitalized veterans and donates clothes, toiletries, pillows and quilts. Mondy-Boyce said VA hospitals all over the country are not accepting visitors or care packages because of the pandemic.
“We’re doing what we can do, but we can’t do what we normally do,” she said.
Mondy-Boyce said Post 560 members continue to conduct “buddy checks” in which they make monthly calls to fellow veterans to check on their wellbeing.
Mak, the owner of Hartz Krispy Chicken Buffet at 1215 Pinemont Dr., helped financially by recently donating $300 to Post 560. He said he has been collecting online donations and using most of that money to feed first responders and families in need while setting aside a small percentage for the local legion post.
Cutting a check was another way for Mak to check on his buddies at Post 560, which is serving veterans virtually this Memorial Day.
“For us, it’s huge,” Mak said. “This is the day we take time to reflect on everybody, not just the people in our specific branches, but every man and woman that served and gave the ultimate sacrifice.”