Behind the men of the American Legion are the women, most commonly their wives, but also mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, granddaughters and great-granddaughters of veterans who served in the nation’s military at times of war.
They are the members of the American Legion Auxiliary, the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization.
While originally organized to assist the members of the American Legion, the American Legion Auxiliary long ago created its own identity, as members broadened their interests to encompass the entire community.
Members of the Maxwell American Legion Auxiliary Unit No. 218 organize and work behind the scenes of the Memorial Day ceremony at the Maxwell Cemetery, and the annual luncheon for veterans, which follows at the American Legion Hall.
The Auxiliary also sponsors essay contests and donates flags to local schools to help instill patriotism in youth, and they distribute the iconic red crepe paper poppies each May to benefit veterans’ causes.
The Maxwell American Legion Auxiliary has 107 members on its roster, said Monica Azevedo, wife of American Legion Commander Ron Azevedo, who served in the National Guard in the Vietnam War.
“There are only about 20 of us who are active,” Azevedo said. “Many of our members are now elderly.”
On Friday, Auxiliary members worked in pairs placing small American flags and crosses with a red poppies on the graves of hundreds of veterans buried in the Maxwell Cemetery, as well decorating the graves of the 66 Auxiliary members buried there.
“It’s the way we honor our members and all of our veterans,” said Elsa Johnson, wife of the late Robert Johnson, who served in the Korean War.
The Maxwell American Legion Auxiliary’s most moving patriotic display, however, is the Avenue of Flags.
The display of casket flags, which flank both sides of two main entry roads inside the cemetery on Memorial Day, can only be described as impressive, particularly when there is just enough wind to make them fly, said Auxiliary President Bonjie Immoos, on Monday.
In 1983, a Maxwell Auxiliary member formed the idea of an Avenue of Flags in Maxwell to which make a stronger patriotic impact during the annual Memorial Day ceremony.
In 1984, 32 American Flags, each with a veteran’s name attached, were unfurled along the avenue and dedicated during the ceremony; followed by another 15 flags the next year.
The family of deceased veterans typically donate the flags, although many of their loved ones are buried elsewhere.
“We are now flying 146 flags,” Azevedo said.
During Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony, six more flags were dedicated to the Avenue of Flags in memory of Frank Aulgur Jr., Richard Gandy, Lawrence Kaeding, Doug Mathews, John Soares and Clint Troughton.
The flags are raised the evening before the ceremony and fly approximately 24 hours.
“This has taken a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of dedication,” Immoos said. “I mention it because to me these flags flying every Memorial Day are a reminder not only of the veterans but of those who honor the veterans…It’s now a major part of our Memorial Day ceremony.”
Immoos said it is the dedication of the American Legion Auxiliary that will ensure the tradition of the Avenue of Flags continues well into the future in Maxwell. ■