One hundred years ago the final conclusive battles of World War I were being fought in Europe. They were some of the bloodiest military engagements in history. At that same time, almost exactly 100 years ago, Joseph D. Nowacki, a young soldier from Mackay, was killed in one of those battles in northern France.

Nowacki was paralyzed by an exploding shell while he was carrying a fellow soldier to the field hospital, and he died within a few hours. His death came less than a month before the armistice was declared and the war was over.

World War I turned out not to be what President Woodrow Wilson had vainly hoped it would be – the “war to end wars.” But one good thing that did come out of World War I was our organization – the American Legion. Mackay is Legion Post No. 16 in Idaho. The American Legion was established with two purposes -- to help veterans and to provide a structure for community service. 

Mackay’s Legion post was named Joe Nowacki, the soldier who died helping somebody else. It’s up to us to keep that train going.

They say it is soldiers and sailors and airmen who keep us free. And that’s true in certain crucial moments, especially outside our own borders. But within our borders, in our own house, there are also other things that keep us free. I’m thinking of self-restraint and democratic behavior. And I’m thinking of working together to keep communities healthy from one day to the next. 

We've created a wall of the names of all Mackay-associated veterans, from the Civil War to the present. The wall was unveiled at the Oct. 13 dedication of the post hall and the building was re-named the Joe Nowacki Memorial Hall and Community Center. Legion members also held a flag disposal and replacement ceremony. There is an arc that connects these three things – an arc that connects the names of individual men and women to the community they are part of, and finally to the flag. These three things exist together as a whole.

How does that work? First, communities depend on the individuals in it – that’s easy to see. But it’s also true that individuals really can’t exist without the communities they are a part of. We’re who we are because we’re part of communities. And then both of those things – the individuals and the community – need goals and visions outside and above themselves to steer the work that we do and make it all worth the effort. That’s what the flag stands for: goals that we may never fully reach, but that guide our efforts and make them worth the trouble.

Campbell Gardett, commander

American Legion Post 16


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