As a Marine Corps veteran, Memorial Day has always been a day for me to pause and remember those who died while serving or from injuries sustained while serving. But the last few years, as I have become more involved with veterans issues, I have truly realized the importance of remembering the many men and women who have given all for our country. And the entire Memorial Day ceremony, while basically the same format every year, touches me so deeply each time I attend. But that isn’t going to happen this year.
COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of so many events on my calendar this year, such as the annual Women Veterans Retreat, the Bull Ride for the Brave, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial The Wall That Heals. My calendar was pretty full with all the planning that went into those projects, but we knew for the greater good, to flatten the curve, to prepare for the COVID-19 peak, that it was necessary to cancel. And no matter how much we tell ourselves that we can use all of this early planning to make the events even better in 2021, it really isn’t making us feel any better this year.
But then the calendar changed to May 1, and as I looked at my nearly blank calendar, I realized we were almost to Memorial Day. Then I saw the newspaper headline: “Memorial Day Services Cancelled.” How can that be? How can we honor the memory of our lost service members when we can’t gather at the cemetery? When the service clubs can’t join together to lay wreaths in honor of those we have lost? When the Hibbing City Band can’t accompany Bill Buckwitz as he sings God Bless America? When members of the Mid-Range Honor Guard can’t gather together to present the colors and rifle salute?
When we can’t be there together, to hear the names of those veterans who were our friends, our neighbors, our leaders who have passed away in the last year. When we can’t lean on each other when we hear the soulful playing of “Taps” by a lone bugler. When we can’t share a meal and receive a blessing from the chaplain. When we can’t join together and salute as the flag is lowered to half-staff and hear the stillness in a moment of silence at 3 p.m. honoring the official National Moment of Remembrance. How can that be?
But it is. But we are resilient, and just like Mother’s Day, fishing opener, Easter, prom and graduations are all very different experiences this year, we will adapt and we will not forget.
While we can’t gather as a large group, there are things we can do in small groups and as individuals to honor those who have gone before.
While the Boy Scouts, who have traditionally placed many of the flags on gravesites, are not allowed to do that this year, veterans groups are taking on that task at many cemeteries, so please visit your local cemetery to see the strength represented by all those American flags proudly waving in the breeze by each veteran’s gravesite.
Since small groups will be able to gather, some of our local honor guards are reviewing the precautions they need to take to still go to the cemetery and perform the rifle salute and the playing of “Taps,” even if there will not be a crowd to see or hear them.
You can read your local newspapers for articles commemorating the day and listing our area veterans who have passed away this year. We are losing the last few Pearl Harbor survivors, the last few of the Navajo Code Talkers, the last few WWII veterans, the last of the Greatest Generation. And so many younger veterans who suffered from the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effects of PTSD across all eras of military service.
You can read the Memorial Day message from retired Lt. Gen. Richard Nash, a Memorial Day speech fitting for present times: tinyurl.com/ MemNash2020. Lt. Gen. Nash was the commander of the 34th Infantry Division during a yearlong tour of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and later served as adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard.
You can watch past recordings of Memorial Day ceremonies on your local public access television channel, and you can attend virtual events like the National Memorial Day Concert on Sunday, May 24 at 7 p.m. on your local PBS channel (www.tpt.org/national-memorial day-concert) or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial traveling Wall That Heals event on Monday, May 25 at noon at www.tinyurl.com/VietnamMemDay20.
You can pay tribute to the American men and women who died during military service by observing the National Moment of Remembrance with a minute of silence at 3 p.m.
You can reach out to a friend or relative who has lost a veteran family member and ask about a memory of that veteran. And reach out to other veterans, especially now, since the stay-at-home order can trigger PTSD symptoms from isolation, and they might have restricted access to their normal coping mechanisms. Make sure our living veterans stay connected and stay alive.
COVID-19 has canceled many things, but it cannot cancel honoring of the men and women who died while serving in the military, those American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and defending the country they so deeply loved.
Memorial Day can be summed up with a quote often attributed to Howard William Osterkamp, a Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient: “All gave some; Some gave all.”
Chris Magnusson lives in Hibbing, MN. She is a United States Marine Corps veteran.