Memorial Day enriched by extra funds

If flowers, wreaths and miniature flags seem more plentiful for today’s Memorial Day ceremony, give credit to Wallace Levin, president of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission.

The commission, eight years after receiving $1,000 for the 2000 ceremony, the commission was recently allocated $10,000 for today’s ceremony, which will focus on the 90th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I. Only four men from the war are alive today, Levin said.

Levin, who has served on the 15-member commission for more than 25 years, had lobbied to increase the amount of money dedicated for Memorial Day through The City’s Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax program.

The grants are paid through the hotel-tax fund, a 14 percent levy on every San Francisco visitor who stays in a hotel. Eight cents of every dollar collected from that tax goes to the city’s program.

In 2000, Levin, a Korean War veteran, warned that organizers would cancel the Memorial Day ceremony because city officials gave them just $1,000 to pay for the items necessary to stage the event every year, which include 1,500 chairs, flowers, wreaths, miniature flags, programs and promotions. It was by far the smallest amount of money given out by the grant program.

After a letter to the Board of Supervisors and then-Mayor Willie Brown, the funding stream began to open up. The commission’s grant for Memorial Day increased to $5,000, but Levin wasn’t satisfied. Other events were receiving much more, such as San Francisco’s Carnaval, which was allocated more than $93,000 this year.

“If they’re getting that, then we should get something more for honoring over 2 million service men and women,” Levin said.

The commission, which also plans the Veterans Day parade and provides insight to the Board of Supervisors when veteran issues intersect with city labor policy, is satisfied with this year’s grant, said Commissioner Raymond Wong, a Vietnam War veteran.

Today’s ceremony will focus on World War I, but emotions are also expected to run high during two tributes, one dedicated to Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and another memorializing Rep. Tom Lantos, who recently died after a battle with cancer.

As for the remaining World War I veterans, Levin said this could be the last major anniversary for them.

“When these four die, our connection to history is gone,” he said.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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