A ceremonial tree lighting is one way to honor our past and present servicemembers.
The idea started last year when James R. Hickey American Legion Post 120 in Palmyra, N.Y., celebrated its first “Honoring Our Hometown Heroes” ceremonial tree lighting.
Ken Diesenroth hangs an ornament during the “Honoring Our Hometown Heroes” ceremonial tree lighting.
Photo: Robert Rivera
For the project, the post invited members of the community to honor past and present military servicemembers by submitting a photo and details of military service that were used to make personalized ornaments and placed on a Christmas tree at the post home during the event.
The inspiration and idea came from Unit 120 American Legion Auxiliary member Haley Ford, who had participated in a similar event for several years in Rochester called “Lights of Honor,” led by Blue Star Mothers.
“I have been a member of our American Legion Auxiliary for the past several years, and it has become a home to me with people there who have become my family,” shared Ford. “I loved the experience I had when I went to the Lights of Honor ceremony, and I wanted to be able to share that with my community.”
Ford’s Legion Family created a form so people could submit information for each ornament, and a flyer was created to promote the event. Copies of both the flyer and the form were sent to an email list for members at the post home, and Ford reached out to local papers, media outlets, and local Facebook pages to announce the event.
For each ornament, people had the ability to designate their veteran’s name, branch, service era, and any military honors awarded. In each ornament, 3-inch clear bulbs included an internal dual image with one side showing the veteran’s picture and the other side listed service information and awards. Color-coded writing on the service information area was indicative of the veteran’s status: blue for any veteran/military member, black for POW/MIA, silver for wounded in action, and gold for killed in action.
Ford said the initial ornament was paid for by Unit 120, and those ornaments stay on the tree each year for the family. If people want to have a duplicate ornament made for themselves, they could designate on the form and purchase duplicates for $15 each.
In total, 43 personalized ornaments were placed on the tree, and 34 ornaments were created for people to take home.
Ford noted their 2022 event was supported by the entire American Legion Family in Palmyra and could not have been accomplished without the support of the post/unit leadership and members of The American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Sons of The American Legion, and several other community members who all helped with the logistics and coordination of the event.
The celebration will become an annual event for American Legion Family Post 120. Ford hopes it will become an inspiration for other surrounding areas to celebrate veterans and current servicemembers.
“I grew up in a very small town similar to Palmyra,” Ford said. “Being able to bring everyone together to celebrate our community around the holidays — especially our veteran community — brings a certain joy and pride into the hearts of many that is like no other experience I can describe.”