Flag stolen from U.S. Post Office amid furor over veterans with poppies

Another incident related to the decision about veterans distributing poppies unfolded Wednesday at the USPS office in Pittsford, according to members of the Pittsford American Legion Post 899. (WHAM photo)

Henrietta, N.Y. (WHAM) - After the U.S. Postal Service said veterans are not allowed to distribute buddy poppies on its properties, it appears the situation is escalating in the Rochester area.

APWU Local 215, the Rochester chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, said an American flag that flew over the Theodore M. Glende U.S. Post Office in Henrietta was stolen Tuesday during the 3-11 p.m. shift. A note was left behind, scrawled on a Priority Mail form. The note, according to the union, referenced the USPS's newly-enforced policy for distributing poppies.

A photo captures the last poppy sold at the post office on Route 250 in Penfield. The veteran, in his 70's was told to pack up and leave.

"As I went over to him he was walking away and I said, 'Where are you going?' He said he had been told by the postmaster he was not supposed to do this. He seemed despondent, with his head down," said outraged postal customer Ralph Andrews. He is also a British veteran.

The tradition of handing out poppies on Memorial Day comes is one to honor those who died in wars fought by American soldiers. It comes from a poem titled In Flanders Fields; members of VFWs across the U.S. distribute poppies. Accepting donations is the major fundraiser for the organization. "We're veterans, helping veterans," said Danny Barnes, a Vietnam Veteran and member of Post 899.

Every Wednesday for the last three weeks, he has set up a table inside the Pittsford post office. This week - he was kicked out, too. "All of the sudden, the rules changed, I guess," he said.

The U.S. Postal Service said in a statement that, "postal policy states solicitation is not allowed on postal property (for any organization). Though there are many worthy organizations, including veterans’ groups, the policy is meant to provide consistency and fairness to all. This is not a new policy."

Yet buddy poppies aren't really sold like a commodity. They're given out for awareness or as a thank-you for a donation. "It's distributing - including giving them away. It was normal for us to distribute the poppies at the post office with the blessings of the post master," said Jefrey Mason of Post 899.

"You might as well put a notice on that door that says no veterans allowed," said Andrews, who notes that this enforcement push comes as the nation prepares for Memorial Day and to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"It seems to me there are more reasons coming out for not supporting veterans than for supporting them," said Danny Barnes, as he handed a poppy and flag to a boy eating an ice cream cone.

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo sent a letter to the local USPS Postmaster and Federal representatives, requesting that the USPS reconsider prohibiting veterans groups from selling Buddy Poppies and flags.

We often rely on symbols, like a Buddy Poppy, to remind us what it means to be an American. We are a nation that honors our veterans and bestows upon them the dignity and support they have earned through their service. Rather than move forward, however, this decision is surely a step in the wrong direction.
On Memorial Day, our community will pause to honor the men and women who laid down their lives in defense of the values and liberties that define our great nation. In somber reflection and with great humility we recognize their sacrifice, as we seek to carry on a legacy of respect for those in service.
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