With restrictions on crowds and other social distancing measures in place due to the coronavirus, Memorial Day services will be celebrated in a different way across the community, the state and the nation.
In Scotts Bluff County, services are traditionally held at a number of cemeteries, the West Nebraska Veterans Home and other locations. However, Scotts Bluff County Veterans Service Officer John Brehm said that many of those ceremonies won’t be held this year.
“In all my 46 years participating in Memorial Day ceremonies, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Brehm said of the need to limit ceremonies. “Every year, we have some of the same people join us for services, and we’d be glad to have them, but we don’t want to take any chances with anyone’s health or safety.”
Some of the venues typically involved in ceremonies also have limitations in place, such as the veterans home and the cemeteries, aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The Scotts Bluff County Veterans Service Office, partnering with the VFW Post #1681, its Auxiliary chapter and DAV Chapter 10, will film a small ceremony in advance that will be made available on Monday on KNEB, Brehm said.
One ceremony will continue, but with changes. Eldon Kramer, of the Gering American Legion Honor Guard, said a ceremony will be held on Monday, 10 a.m. at West Lawn Cemetery in Gering. The ceremony is traditionally small, he said, and organizers are hoping it will be a small ceremony again this year.
“Observing Memorial Day is a tradition,” he said. “We wanted to be able to still hold our ceremony, even if we have to make some changes.”
Social distancing will be required. Kramer said members of the Honor Guard are planning to wear masks and Mary Bowman, of the American Legion, said that attendees are also requested to wear masks
A keynote speaker won’t be part of the ceremonies, but the singing of the national anthem, honoring of fallen veterans buried at the cemetery within the last year, a flag raising ceremony and the Honor Guard’s performance of a volley and taps will be held.
Despite the changes in ceremonies, flags will continue to fly at local cemeteries. Beth Linn, who organizes the placement of flags at the Fairview and Sunset Memorial ceremonies for Wright – Irion Post 5 of The American Legion in Scottsbluff, said volunteers are still being accepted for placing of the flags. However, she said, there are some limitations.
Traditionally, people will show up at the cemeteries the Saturday before Memorial Day. This year, people can volunteer, but things will be changed to limit the number of volunteers in keeping with social distancing guidelines.
Volunteers will be assigned a specific area of the cemetery to place flags and asked to go to the assigned area, rather than gathering. Some organizations, such as the Boy Scouts have traditionally helped with placing the flags, but will not be available this year. Many of those youths are likely to volunteer with their families, instead, Linn said. Some businesses, such as SWBC, have already volunteered employees to help out on Saturday.
Volunteers will be asked to observe social distancing rules and may wear masks, though they are not required. American Legion volunteers will deliver flags and the Scotts Bluff County Detention Center has volunteered its prisoners to help with picking up the flags to assist with in making the need for volunteers minimal.
Anyone interested in volunteering must be signed up with Linn by 6 p.m., Thursday, May 21. People can contact Linn at email@example.com or call 308-631-9932. Linn will select volunteers and make assignments to sections by Friday, 6 p.m.
The state Veterans Affair Department has also planned a virtual ceremony, planned for Monday, May 25, as it encourages people to abide by the limit of no gatherings of more than 10 people that remains in place through the end of the month.
The state observation will begin at 8 a.m. (CT) with Monica Alexander lighting a single candle in the Rotunda and Mel Alexander extinguishing the candle at 8 p.m. (CT) The Alexanders are the parents of Army Cpl. Matthew Alexander of Gretna, who was killed May 6, 2007, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baqubah, Iraq.
The observation will be online and able to be incorporated into other ceremonies across the state.
For information about the event, go to: veterans.nebraska.gov/memorialday.