Making lemonade out of lemons

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Heavy rain and hail supposedly canceled National Commander Dale Barnett’s “Walk for Veterans” April 8 in Massachusetts. But the Legion family members who showed up for the walk weren’t ready to give up quite that easily.

Barnett said that Department Sergeant-at-Arms Drew Pajak had set up a walk along Battle Road Trail starting at Meriam’s Corner in Concord, traveling across the Old North Bridge and into Minute Man National Historical Park. There, they would be greeted by some Minute Men and given a tour.

But hail and rain put a stop to that, so the more than two dozen participants headed to nearby Anthony Hunt Hamilton Post 221 in Bedford. After being fed lunch by the post and watching the rain turn to sunshine, another walk quickly was organized.

Marching up and down Great Road, the Legion family group walked nearly a mile to Bedford’s Veterans Memorial Park, where plaques honor the 11 residents of the town who have been killed in military service. Rain – and some more hail – started at the tail end of the walk back, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of those who participated.

“Like the national commander said, let’s take lemons and make lemonade out of it,” said District 3 Commander Jodie Pajak, a member of Agawam Post 185 in Feeding Hills, Mass. “That’s’ what you do. We always overcome and adapt. That’s what we do.”

Barnett said initial disappointment gave way to optimism when the group got to Post 221.

“We were so excited because we were going to go on the trail of the Minute Men,” Barnett said. “Unfortunately, the skies opened up. We actually had hail. That was the first time we’ve had hail and rain. And it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

“When we got (to Post 221), it was amazing how quickly they adapted. Nothing will deter the determination of The American Legion in their community.”

It was Barnett’s 27th “Walk for Veterans,” which helped raise money for the Legion’s National Emergency Fund. It was also a chance to raise the Legion’s awareness in the community.

“I really believe … trying to get the family involved is very, very important, considering our young veterans coming back,” Jodie Pajak said. “They’re engaged into being families and working hard, and we want them ti know that The American Legion is there for them. In order to do that, we need to show them that everybody’s involved, and just let them know that it’s the family that we’re all about. We take care of everybody."

Drivers on Great Road showed their support for the walk by honking and waving. “Obviously the people were glad to see the veterans out on the streets,” Barnett said. “I told (the participants) that every time you hear one of those horns honking, you know that’s a potential member if they’re not already a member.”

After the initial cancellation, the group arrived at Post 221 and were provided pizza, coffee and drinks by the post. The last-minute notice didn’t faze Post 221 Commander O.C. O’Connor. “(It took) three phone calls, because we have a team and a half here,” he said. “The team we have here, our family unit – it’s easy to be a commander when you have people like that.”

That responsiveness didn’t surprise Department of Massachusetts Commander Louis Brault – nor did the desire to get a walk done despite the weather. “All over the state people do this all the time,” he said. “When something falls apart, they always recover … and make sure it works.

“(We) recovered. Everybody walked that could. We’ve got a great group of people in Massachusetts."

Brault said it was appropriate to bring one of the walks to his state. “We’re the cradle of liberty,” he said. “The first militia was in Salem, Mass., (in) 1630. That’s where it all started."