LA GRANDE — A cherished local military tradition did a temporary about-face on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the annual La Grande Veterans Day parade. Nevertheless, the parade’s spirit remained alive thanks to American Legion Auxiliary Unit 43 of La Grande.
The auxiliary, which has 132 members, all women, served spaghetti lunches to veterans and the public at the site of the American Legion Hall, 301 Fir St., for at least the fifth straight year on Wednesday. The auxiliary added to its growing tradition with a twist — serving the meals in takeout boxes in the parking lot of the American Legion Hall, another move to meet requirements to help stop the spread of the virus.
The auxiliary gave out about 80 lunches, which featured a large helping of spaghetti and included garlic bread and cookies.
“Everything was homemade,” said Maggie LaMont, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 43 president.
Kathi Karnowski, membership chair of the unit, said serving the meal was a way of keeping the Veterans Day parade, which had been conducted annually for many decades, on the forefront of people’s minds.
“We were trying to keep it alive for next year,” she said.
The meals were again free to all veterans and members of the auxiliary. For everyone else the cost was $5 per meal.
The auxiliary began serving the post-parade lunches about five years ago. Prior to that, the meals were cooked and prepared under the direction of American Legion Post 43 with help from its auxiliary.
“We took over for them because we wanted them to enjoy Veterans Day instead of having to work,” Karnowski said.
She said the members of the La Grande auxiliary have developed a remarkable camaraderie through projects such as the spaghetti feed.
“We have become like sisters,” she said.
Karnowski said she would not have known three-fourths of them if she was not in the auxiliary.
“Our paths would not have crossed,” she said.
The path Unit 43 has cut in Union County runs deep, for it was granted its charter in 1923.
Karnowski said being able to provide grab-and-go meals to veterans was fulfilling Wednesday, but she liked it better when the lunches were served and shared in the Legion Hall. The auxiliary member explained she enjoyed getting more of an opportunity to talk to the veterans there.
She added that dining at the Legion Hall gives veterans — especially those who have no family members here — a time and place to tell stories and share their histories with others.
Still, she said Wednesday’s event was one to cherish.
“Everybody did a good job,” she said, “and it was such a fun event.”