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Your Stories: a marine's family challenging post office policy

Updated: Wednesday, July 10 2013, 04:22 PM EDT

Hornell / Rochester, N.Y. --- It is a federal policy that just doesn’t make sense to many folks.  Especially to those who knew Marine Lance Corporal Zach Smith of Hornell.

In August 2010, about eight months after he was killed in Afghanistan, the Hornell Post Office was renamed the “Zachary Smith Post Office Building” after an act of Congress and the President of the United States.  That designation includes a small plaque inside the building recognizing the Smith.

But Smith’s family has always wondered why Zach’s name can’t appear outside the building, or even why a beautiful marker donated to the family can’t be displayed in front of the building or anywhere on the grounds.

Some of the answers they get from the Post Office cite fairness, financial concerns, and the desire for a uniform approach and appearance to all Post Office buildings.  A spokeswoman for the United States Post Office told 13WHAM News that, “the identity of a Post Office is the community” and that a plaque inside the lobby is visible and invites customers to come inside to view it.  (NOTE: This spokeswoman also passed along this link - to see every post office dedicated in the US click here.  In Western NY region the Zip Codes range from 140XX to 149XX)

For some in Hornell, especially the Smiths, that isn’t enough.  In fact Zach’s fellow Marines or friends from high school who left the area often visit Hornell and ask the Smith family to see the dedication at the Post Office.  Often they can’t if the Post Office is closed for the day or weekend.

"I think everybody just thought that they were dragging their feet and that eventually it would be on there they just hadn't done it yet,” Zach’s father Chris Smith said.  “No, it's not going to be on there.

The Smith family is now taking up this fight, and not just for Zach and the Hornell Post Office.  They’ve enlisted the help of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer as well as their local Representative Tom Reed. 

On Tuesday Chris Smith made the rounds at some local radio stations and urged others to sign this online petition.  The hopes is that new legislation will compel or require the U.S. Post Office to change its policy as it pertains to displaying the names of those whom Post Offices are dedicated.

On 95.1-FM The Brew the Smith family finds a prominent liberal voice in Brother Wease who is joining them in their efforts.

"This is ridiculous and it's too bad everyone has to waste energy because it shouldn't have to be," Brother Wease said.  “Let's get a sign up and name it after Zach, what lip service are they doing by just saying it is?  Let's do it, let's follow through."

In WHAM 1180-AM talk show host Bob Lonsberry the Smith family has an old friend and prominent conservative voice speaking out on their behalf.

"If you don't put the name on the post office, not just for this G.I. but for all of them, you're not keeping the promise you made,” Lonsberry said.  “We've told their families, we've told their communities, we've told the country that these buildings are dedicated in the memory of these service members but if it's some plaque inside that nobody's ever going to see then we've done nothing to honor their memory."

For these radio hosts, and for many others, this is not a partisan or political issue.

"I think that Democrats and Republicans alike fight and die for our country. Democrats and Republicans alike are benefited by the service and sacrifice of those who die for us so this has nothing whatsoever to do with politics or party,” Lonsberry continued.  "If it doesn't have his name, it doesn't honor him."

For the Smith family this is a fight that is as much about other families like theirs around the country as it is about Zach.

“It almost feels like an awful waste of time and money and everything; just put his name on the post office,” Smith’s father said. 

A Post Office Spokeswoman tells 13WHAM News that only buildings that the Post Office owns are actually dedicated in honor of individuals.  Of the 32,000 Post Offices nationwide about 8,600 are actually owned.  She also points out that about a third of all legislation passed in Congress is the renaming of Post Offices and other federal structures.

In a March letter (attached) to the U.S. Post Office Sen. Gillibrand asked, “Why a post office officially named by Congress through an act of law cannot also bear the name of the honored person in some way on the façade of the building.” 

The response (attached) received in April details two of the reasons why this is the case; the first being fairness and the second being that, “the Postal Service is not equipped to administer added commemoration.”

Statement from Sen. Gillibrand’s Office:

“For the last two years, Senator Gillibrand has worked closely with the Smith family to make sure their son Lance Corporal Zachary Smith gets the recognition he deserves in his hometown for making the ultimate sacrifice. Senator Gillibrand is disappointed by the U.S. Postal Service’s repeated refusal to place the marker on the federal property. As a result, Senator Gillibrand is continuing to work with the Smith family on new legislation that would permit postal facilities to allow markers on their grounds, similar to other federal buildings.”

Statement from Sen. Schumer’s Office:

“Zach Smith was a true Hornell hero and deserves to be recognized for his sacrifice to our nation. Getting the post office named after him was a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done. I’m going to work closely with the family to make sure that everyone who visits the Hornell post office knows exactly who its named for, and why Corporal Smith was given this honor.”

Your Stories: a marine's family challenging post office policy

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