During a normal Memorial Day, David Willoughby would be handing out American flags during a large celebration.
Instead he and other motorcycle riders from American Legion Post 9 participated in a parade of flags at Riverside Memorial Park that started with their line of motorcycles and ended with family and friends’ vehicles.
The turnout exceeded his hopes as members of a classic car club and at least a dozen other vehicles of Post 9 members joined the parade. Next year, whether normal Memorial Day celebrations return or not, he hopes to participate in another parade of flags through the cemetery.
“The best way to social distance is on two wheels,” Willoughby said.
Many traditions and events the community attends to honor the men and women who died in military service were canceled this Memorial Day to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But many were still able to observe the holiday by joining in the flag parade or visiting graves.
Willoughby, a U.S. Army veteran, said it was important to continue some Memorial Day traditions to honor and support each other and the families who have lost veterans.
“It’s showing our respect for our brothers and sisters,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby’s motorcycle was one of roughly 100 vehicles that participated in the flag parade, and he was one of thousands that stopped by the cemeteries along Government Way over the weekend.
Candace Aramburu, director of human resources and marketing at Fairmount Memorial Association, said the parade of flags was a way to celebrate those who had died without holding a large event that could put people at risk. Normally, the cemetery and funeral home have concerts and a beer garden.
Thousands of flags flew throughout Riverside Memorial Park, which was along the route American Legion riders took. The flags remained there the rest of the day for other families to appreciate.
Aramburu said fewer families than normal visited graves during this Memorial Day weekend, but the ones that did visit seemed to stay longer, and seemed to respect social distancing.
“I think overall, it felt special in a different way,” she said.
She said many of the families that did visit seemed to appreciate the chance to be out of the house, do something normal and visit a loved one.
Janet Nesbitt said she and her cousin usually take a long tour on Memorial Day weekend that includes the final resting places of multiple family members in several cemeteries around the area, including her mother, multiple grandparents, an uncle and a sibling.
This Memorial Day her cousin, who was recently trapped on a cruise ship but returned home, wasn’t able to come with her. “Things are just different this year,” she said. “It’s a hard time.”
While some honored veterans and loved ones by visiting a cemetery, others attended an event at Hennessey Funeral Home and Crematory that raised money for a veterans group.
Melissa Johnson, managing partner at the funeral home, said it normally has celebrations including vintage cars, music and a collection of historic military uniforms people can go inside and view.
This year, she said, they tried to connect with people in a different way, providing free catered food and music in a drive-through picnic and accepting donations for Down the Stretch Ranch, a foundation that connects retired racehorses with veterans who have PTSD.
“Because of COVID,” she said, “this was the best we could do.”
She said they also made food deliveries to first responders as well.
Despite not being able to celebrate as they normally would, Johnson said she still feels that their efforts were a success.
“I look at it as fun and trying to do something nice for our veterans,” she said.
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