COVID-19 doesn't stop Legion Family from observing Memorial Day

American Legion Post 302 in Oconto Falls, Wis., was instrumental in the creation of the Oconto Falls Veterans Monument, which was dedicated last fall. And on May 25, that same memorial – which bears the names of 450 veterans and their years of service – served as the backdrop for the post’s Memorial Day observation made necessary because of the coronavirus.

Members of Post 302 stood socially distanced in front of the memorial and saluted as vehicle after vehicle, many adorned with U.S. flags and other patriotic decorations, passed by. It was a chance for the community to come together to honor the day.

“It did go exceptionally well,” said Post 302 Legionnaire Bob Maloney, who helped organize the event and chaired the memorial project. “I would say we were pleasantly surprised. But our community … has taken the veterans under its wing, if you will, and they’ve supported us with everything that we’ve done.”

Maloney said between 40 and 50 cars drove past the memorial that also has meant so much to Oconto Falls. “There are some real heroes in our community that are buried in our cemetery and also (listed) on our monument,” he said. “It was all about the memorial. This monument is a community trophy, and we’re really proud of it, as veterans, that we were able to go forward and get this built, with the community support being as strong as it was.”

Click here for a photo gallery from Post 302's event.

Ohio Community Comes Together. The lack of a Memorial Day parade didn’t stop Jenkins-Vaughan Post 97 in Cardington, Ohio, from helping the community observe the holiday. The post teamed up with village officials and the civic group Friends of Cardington to put on a procession and ceremony that were viewable either in-person from a space distance or virtually.

In lieu of the parade – for years coordinated by Post 97 and last year featuring more than 50 units – members of Post 97’s American Legion Family carried the colors from American Legion Park through the village and took part in a POW/MIA ceremony and 21-gun salute at the Civil War Monument in Glendale Cemetery. Members of the community were able to either watch from their yards or porches, or follow along via streaming on Post 97’s Facebook page and other online sources. And social distancing was followed by the 40 so residents who watched to observe the cemetery ceremony in person.

“It went real well,” said American Legion Past National Vice Commander James Morris, a member and past commander of Post 97. “We didn’t know what kind of crowd we’d have out there or how they’d participate. But in our community veterans are very highly thought of. We do a lot within the community, and they support us 100 percent.”

In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, Post 97 used its Facebook page to urge members of the community to get involved with the day of remembrance. Those included placing a wreath or flowers at a local veteran’s gravesite; or displaying signs, banners, or other visual displays for their front porch, yard or window.

“There were signs all over the community,” Morris said. “They put a sign on their front porch or their window honoring a veteran who had passed away. It went great.”

Click here to watch video from Post 97's event.

Click here for photos from Post 97's event. 

Adapting and Overcoming. In Sayville, N.Y., the members of Smith-Wever Post 651 have the goal of working around problems, which has been exhibited during one of the most trying times in the nation’s history. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Post 651’s Legion Family has staged food drives and food pantries, and delivered medical equipment to front-line health-care workers – all while conducting post meetings via Zoom.

So when the town’s Memorial Day parade was cancelled, the post wasn’t going to sit by and do nothing.

David Isaacs, who serves as both Post 651’s adjutant and American Legion Riders Chapter 651 director, said that “thousands” normally attend the Sayville Memorial Day parade. When that was cancelled, members of the post planned of placing hundreds of wreaths on the gravesites of veterans in local cemeteries. But Isaacs and fellow Legion Riders also planned on riding down Main Street in a safe and legal procession. And from there the idea grew to a drive that went past various memorial stops in the area and included dozens of members of the community.

“It just kind of ballooned,” Isaacs said. “We just wanted to do something. We were just trying to work around the virus.”

Isaacs said that around 50 vehicles took off with the 20 or so American Legion Riders at the start of the procession, while another 25 or so vehicles joined in later.

“We work around things,” Isaacs said. “We adapt. We improvise. We overcome.”

Click here for photos from Post 651's event.

The following are a few examples of how American Legion Family members throughout the nation helped their communities observe Memorial Day. Please remember to share your ceremonies and other events at www.legiontown.org.

California

Hollywood Post 43 recorded a socially distanced Memorial Day ceremony in the Hollywood Legion Theater. The program was made available via the post’s Facebook page and can be seen here.

Colorado

Colorado Legionnaires took Memorial Day to residents of the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora, providing a ceremony that included a color guard, chaplain and buglers who played taps. The public, and members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, also helped with the ceremony.

“These men and women that are inside the facility are not able to get out. They are quarantined, they are not able to get out and visit with our fallen brothers and sisters,” Department of Colorado Commander Dean Noechel told CBS Denver. “This is something I can do to give back to them, so they can participate and remember. As a veteran, who lost seven brothers in Iraq, I wasn’t going to let today be forgotten, because we need to honor them.”

Connecticut

• With the annual Derby-Shelton Memorial Parade cancelled, American Legion Post 16 in Shelton organized a ceremony that featured buglers playing taps on the Derby-Shelton bridge overlooking the Housatonic River. More than 50 people showed up to watch, observing social distancing in the process. Bugler Russell Avery, a member of Sons of the American Legion Squadron 16, told the New Haven Independent “If you don’t celebrate this day, then you don’t have to celebrate any day, because without our veterans, we wouldn’t have what we have now. It’s a day of remembrance of all of those who died serving our country. Keeping the freedom. The greatest country in the world.”

• The Department of Connecticut’s Third District created two Memorial Day videos to share with the community. They can be found here and here.

Florida

• Members of the Department of Florida’s 11th District conducted a ceremony at the South Florida National Cemetery. Watch the ceremony here.

• Richard L. Cromartie American Legion Post 374 normally would conduct a Memorial Day ceremony at the Village Green community but this time recorded the service in advance so it could be shown multiple times daily on the Village Green TV station from Memorial Day through June 8. The ceremony also is available to view on Post 374’s YouTube channel.

• In Atlantic Beach, American Legion Post 129 hosted a socially distanced Memorial Day ceremony that also honored those who lost their lives to COVID-19. “Now during the coronavirus pandemic, the most visible heroes are the health care professionals who are saving others and risking their own lives while doing so,” American Legion Past National Commander Clarence Hill said during the ceremony. “These heroes have much in common with the people we honor today, America’s fallen veterans. They are men and women who have sacrificed their own lives so others could live. They are both elite and ordinary. They are elite in sense of character, giving your life so others could live is the ultimate definition of selfless. They are ordinary in the fact they represent the diverse fabric of our country.”

Indiana

American Legion Post 492 in West Lafayette organized a parade for the World War II veterans living at Five Star Residences. One of the residents was a 105-year-old who was a part of the first wave of the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day.

Around 20 residents came outside to watch the parade, wearing masks in the process.

“It's an honor,” Post 492 Legionnaire Shane Thomas told WLFI. “We went around and did the graves at the (Indiana Veterans’ Home) and this is our final stop today and it's an honor to do it.”

Maine

• In Starks, Anson and Madison, members of the Tardiff-Belanger Post 39 American Legion Family conducted Memorial Day ceremonies at six sites that included speeches, prayers and placing wreaths at veterans memorials. In Anson, American Legion Post 39 Commander Robert Demchak said, “Comrades, this day is sacred with the almost visible presence of those who have gone before us. We honor the memory of those who gave their lives in the service of our country and of those who have dropped their burdens by the wayside of life and are gone to their eternal rest. May the ceremonies of today deepen our reverence for our departed friends and comrades.”

• In Kennebunkport, members of American Legion Post 159 had a brief service at the Veterans Memorial at Dock Square. “We need to do this, to pay honor and to take that chance to come out and bring everybody together and do what we do," Post 159 Legionnaire Alexander Dascanio told WGME.

Massachusetts

• In Westfield, American Legion Post 124 continued its tradition of conducting its Memorial Day ceremony, but this year it did so in advance so it could be recorded and viewed on Westfields Community Access Television throughout Memorial Day.

• With the normal parade cancelled in Mendon, Roger L. Wood American Legion Post 355 teamed up with the Mendon Police Association, the fire department and the Massachusetts State Police to organize a convoy of vehicles made up of police cruisers, fire vehicles and civilian vehicles that rode through nearly every street in town to observe Memorial Day. People could follow along with the convoy’s route online using Glymse, an online service that allowed the convoy to share its location in real time, while photos and videos of the convoy were posted via social media.

Michigan

In Zeeland, Gilbert D. Karsten American Legion Post 33 and Zeeland Festivals, Inc. pre-recorded a private Memorial Day ceremony that was made available through Facebook.

Minnesota

In Proctor, American Legion Post 106’s honor guard conducted socially-distanced ceremonies at Proctor City Hall and at six local cemeteries.

"There's still people that want to recognize and remember what Memorial Day is for," Post 106 Commander James Kmecik told WDIO. “A lot of people memorialize different things, but we with The American Legion focus on our veterans, and most importantly our veterans who died during service in combat and war."

Missouri

• Normally members of American Legion Post 43 in Nixa would perform a 21-gun salute and play taps at three different locations on Memorial Day. The coronavirus got in the way of those plans, so this year Post 43 showed up outside the Fremont Senior Living Community to honor the veterans who live there. Legionnaires wore masks, while those who watched either stayed in the balconies or sat in the parking lot. Legionnaire Glen Smith said the stop at the community gave the Legionnaires an opportunity to take Memorial Day to the veterans living there. “There's veterans here who don't get out," Smith told the News Leader. "We felt it was our obligation to come and be with them.”

• American Legion Riders Chapter 55 observed Memorial Day at different cemeteries in Hannibal and New London while following safety precautions. "Every cemetery that has a veteran is a special location to me,” American Legion Riders Chapter 55 Director Shon Thompson told KHQA. “We do what we do. A lot of things have been cancelled this year due to the COVID virus. We're doing our best to get out and salute our veterans that have fallen.”

Montana

• In Hamilton, American Legion Post 47 had a private ceremony at the World War I doughboy statue on the lawn of the Ravalli County Museum. Members of Post 47 also placed a wreath in the Bitterroot River to commemorate those lost at sea. Another presentation took part in the veterans portion of the Riverview Cemetery.

• In Billings, the American Legion Post 4 Yellowstone Legion Riders had a modified version of its annual drive-by ceremony that started at Riverside Cemetery, went to Mountview Cemetery and ended at the Yellowstone National Cemetery. There were no ceremonies at each cemetery; participants were asked to pause for moments of silence, prayers and a few brief words while observing social distancing. “Last year we would stop at each one of the ceremonies and listen,” ALR Chapter 4 Director Gil Floyd told the Billings Gazette. “One thing we learned in the military is you just fire really quick. It’s what today’s about. (Honoring) the guys who died in combat.”

• In Bozeman, American Legion Post 14 organized a community effort that placed more than 2,500 flags on the gravesites of veterans buried at Sunset Hills Cemetery. “It’s a pretty special time to gather with others in this community and it gives us all, especially those of us who’ve served, a moment to thank the community for the way they support us year after year when we do the events this week," Post 14 Legionnaire Rick Gale told KBZK.

Nebraska

• Millard American Legion Post No. 374’s members and American Legion Riders put out more than 400 U.S. flags on the graves of veterans in Omaha. Normally the post would be assisted by other groups but were not this year because of safety guidelines. “It is an honor for us to come out here and mark the graves of our fallen,” ALR 374 Director Steve Lahrs told Fox 42. “These people are here for you. They served our country and we owe it to them to pay them a little bit of respect.”

• In Gering, American Legion Post 36’s Legion Family organized a socially distanced ceremony at West Lawn Cemetery. The ceremony included an honor guard, the playing of taps; members of the Legion Family who took part wore masks, as did many of those in attendance. “I’m glad we got to do it,” Sons of The American Legion Squadron 36 member Eldon Kaufman told the Star Herald. “We are going to continue our patriotic duty.”

New Jersey

After Hoboken’s 122-year-old Memorial Day parade was cancelled, American Legion Post 107 teamed up with members of the Boy Scouts to stage a memorial walk, complete with masks and U.S. flags.

"Since 1898 the Hoboken residents have been marching up Washington in honor of our fallen brothers and sisters," Post 107 Commander John Carey told Connecting Vets. “This is a tradition that we can't afford to let fade away.”

New York

• In Endicott, American Legion Post 1700 organized a socially distanced parade that traveled through the village. Those attending were asked to practice social distancing measures and remain inside their vehicles.

• In Buffalo, the annual Erie County American Legion Memorial Day ceremony was recorded and aired twice on WBEN radio on Memorial Day and remains available to listen to on-demand.

North Carolina

• The American Legion Family from Post 82 in Shelby conducted a safe ceremony and then encouraged the dozens of locals in attendance to form small groups and maintain social distancing while helping place more than 1,100 flags on the graves of veterans buried in Sunset and Webb Memorial cemeteries.

• In Beaufort, American Legion Post 46 joined other veterans service organizations in a socially distanced Memorial Day ceremony and a wreath-laying on Memorial Day. American Legion Post 46 Judge Advocate Bob Kirk organized the ceremony, which took place at Bayview Cemetery.

Pennsylvania

• In Hellerton, the local Memorial Day service was closed to the public, so Edward H. Ackerman American Legion Post 397 streamed the service live via the organization’s Facebook page. The ceremony observed social distancing rules and took place at Union Cemetery. “I know times are difficult, but let us always remember the troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy, battled the freezing temperatures in Korea, fought in the jungles of Vietnam, ascended the mountains of Afghanistan and cleared the streets of Iraq,” Post 397 Commander Eric Medei said during the ceremony. “Let us never forget their sacrifices and the difficult times they had to endure. It really puts things into perspective. They fought and died, so we can have the freedoms that we have today.”

• In a matter of 10 days, Harveys Lake American Legion Post 967 organized a safe, large community parade that included veterans, motorcyclists, politicians and civilians, and began and ended at Post 967. “We were so pleased with the turnout, especially on short notice,” Post 967 Commander Sam Wolfe told the Times Leader.

South Dakota

Members of American Legion Post 15 would normally spend Memorial Day installing U.S. flags at area cemeteries. But wanting to ensure safety, the post also organized a drive-thru Memorial Day procession that traveled through four local cemeteries and consisted of dozens of vehicles.

Members of the post’s honor guard fired a 21-gun salute at each cemetery when the procession came to a stop.

"Overall, it was very dignified and, I think, appreciated by people that were there," Post 15 Commander Bob Johnson told the Grand Forks Herald.

Texas

Members of American Legion Post 267 in Marshall would normally visit area cemeteries on Memorial Day to place flags on veterans’ graves. But safety precautions because of the coronavirus kept the post from its annual tradition.

So instead, Post 267 teamed up with the the Marshall Independent School District, which allowed the post to place flags in front of the district office. The flags spell out “I Love USA” using a heart in place of the word “love.”

Utah

In Ogden, Baker-Merrill American Legion Post 9 continued its more than 50-year tradition of marking the graves of veterans at Ogden City Cemetery with American flags. The flags were placed on Saturday morning instead of the normal Monday placement and used small groups to observe proper social distancing.

Paul Warren — a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, member of Post 9 and resident of Ogden — helped place flags Saturday.

“This is country. This is honor and duty,” Post 9 Legionnaire Paul Warren told the Standard-Examiner. “I can’t think of a better reason than that.”

Washington

• In Spokane, American Legion Riders Chapter 9 led a drive-thru ceremony in Fairmount Memorial Park, followed by a parade of cars through the park’s 3,800 U.S. flags placed along the route.

• In Snoqualmie, the Renton-Pickering American Legion Post 79 Legion Family provided the community with a virtual Memorial Day service that it streamed via Facebook.

Wisconsin

• In Appleton, American Legion Post 38’s color guard – the Scarlet Guard – organized a procession with other veterans service organizations after the city cancelled its Memorial Day parade. The procession included VSOs, motorcyclists and local law enforcement, and visited multiple area cemeteries. “It's not something we've done here in the past, but I guarantee this will be a new tradition we do here on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend," Sons of The American Legion Squadron 38 member Eric Stadler told NBC 26. “It's heartwarming. It proves that we can come up with new things. We can make the best of a bad situation.”

• In Cross Plains, American Legion Post 245 delivered flags and conducted a ceremony while observing proper social distancing and limiting the number of participants. Those wanting to observe the service were asked to do so from a safe distance.

Wyoming

With Cheyenne’s Memorial Day event at the Beth El cemetery cancelled, American Legion Riders Chapter 6 placed flags on the graves of the veterans buried there.

"This is for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen, and now in the future space force members, that died in action protecting our country," ALR Chapter 6 Director Mark "Gunner" Pfenning told Wyoming News Now. “They made it possible for us to enjoy days like this. To come out and gather with who we want to gather with, and do those barbecues. If you're having a barbecue today, good for you. That's what these men and women sacrificed their lives for, is to keep this country free."