As we prepare for the unofficial kickoff of summer this weekend what is traditionally the nationwide observance of those who sacrificed so much for us, we are being asked to sacrifice traditional ceremonies and gatherings.
"Unfortunately due to COVID-19, this Memorial Day will not look like any other observances that we have had during our lifetimes,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general and head of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Traditionally Meadville holds a Memorial Day parade and public ceremony in Diamond Park. The parade draws pretty large crowds along the streets. Roughly a third to a half of the spectators then march up to Diamond Park for solemn ceremony of remembrance. Those who attend the ceremony tend to be mostly veterans and their families. The rest likely head back home for a family cookout and perhaps a couple of cold ones.
This year, like in communities throughout the country, Memorial Day will look different around here.
Franklin and Oil City have cancelled ceremonies. Titusville will have one, but it will be shortened and attendees will be asked to respect social distancing. Meadville will also hold a smaller affair, but also have set up for the community a chance to listen and view the ceremony from home.
Meadville Area Memorial Day Observance Committee chair Joe Galbo said the group, consisting of mostly service veterans, consulted other veterans and officials to come up with this year's modified ceremony. The parade and speakers were canceled, as was the band and the public invitation to gather round the gazebo.
Galbo expects the personnel needed to perform the ceremony will be well under the governor's mandated crowd limit of no more than 25. Local radio stations are planning to broadcast from the park and live stream on their websites. The City of Meadville also plans to provide a live stream option.
Galbo and city manager Andy Walker are asking residents to watch the ceremony from their homes instead of gathering in the park which would go against the recommendation of the Governor and the Department of Heath guidelines.
This doesn't please everyone. Despite Maj. Gen. Carrelli's admission that "there will not be numerous parades, ceremonies, and other large public outpourings of support due to the risk of health and infection of this terrible disease," some area veterans feel their ability to honor their brothers of service is being taken away from them.
"For us veterans, this our way of paying respect, to come together as a group, to pay tribute. It's like Christians coming together on Easter or Christmas," said Brian Byers, who served during the Iraq War as a corpsman and combat medic with the Navy and Air Force.
He and some other veterans became upset after hearing the Meadville ceremony in Diamond Park was closed to the public.
"It's not the same as sitting at home and watching it on TV," Byers said. He emphasized the importance of veterans gathering together as a unit, despite the different years of service from World War II to present day. He said a veteran is a veteran and they all share a common bond.
Galbo emphasized the ritual honors will be observed, the veteran's who are lost will be honored. Other than the parade, the speaker being cancelled and crowds that traditionally gather in the park, the ceremony itself won't be much different, he said. "This isn't really a big change for us, " Galbo clarified. For years now the committee has seen to it that veterans and community members could view the ceremony from home. The only difference this year, due to the Coronavirus, they are not planning the public involvement portion.
"We're asking that people respect what we're doing and watch from home," Galbo said emphasizing the importance of safety. "This is not my observance; it's about those who have died," he said. "... the committee took the position that the safety of the community was paramount in any plans and endangering citizens in any way would dishonor those service people (who) made the ultimate sacrifice to protect them," Galbo said in the official press release from the City of Meadville.
No matter what one believes about the order, the Governor and Pennsylvania Department of Health have issued guidelines to follow and municipalities must decide their course of action to best safeguard its citizens.
"It is still important, however, for all of us to reflect on the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who are no longer with us. Keeping them and their families forefront in our hearts and minds this Memorial Day is a fitting way to honor their service and sacrifice," Maj. Gen. Carrelli said.
We all can do this in our own way, nothing can stop us from honoring those we lost with our hearts.