We can’t let COVID-19 stop us from honoring veterans on Memorial Day

This Memorial Day Weekend will be like no other one in history.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, official ceremonies with large crowds at cemeteries across the country won’t take place. That means the annual Flags for Fallen Vets event at Florida National Cemetery also won’t happen.

Typically, Villagers would board buses early Sunday morning, head to the Bushnell cemetery and pay their respects to the many veterans buried there. Others from across the state also would take part in the effort and by noon, thousands of American flags would be placed in front of the white marble tombstones. It’s a sight guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of every American who truly appreciates the freedoms we enjoy because of the sacrifices of those veterans.

But that huge, organized effort won’t take place this year. Sure, families will make their way to the cemetery and visit the graves of relatives. They’ll place a few flags, honor their family members and say some prayers. But they’ll be restricted to smaller groups and the cemetery certainly won’t look the same afterwards, as many of the graves won’t be adorned with red, white and blue.

As we all know, it’s all because of the Coronavirus pandemic that’s swept across the country in the past couple of months. As of Friday night, Florida had reported 49,451 cases of the virus that has claimed the lives of more than 2,100 in Florida alone and forced more than 9,100 people in the Sunshine State to seek hospital care.

The number of cases has slowed to a crawl in the tri-county area and remained at 751 on Friday night. But that’s largely because many people across the state have practiced social distancing and other precautions, such as avoiding groups of 10 or more people. So it’s clear that gathering in large groups at Florida National Cemetery and other venues simply doesn’t make any sense right now.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t honor and mourn those who died while serving in the military. We can certainly keep their memories alive with our family members. We can relay stories of their heroics. And we can share laughs and tears as we recall everything they mean to us.

There’s no doubt that we’re all dealing tough times right now. This illness represents one of the scariest situations many of us have ever faced. COVID-19 is an invisible virus that can strike when we least expect it. Some of us can have it and not even know it. And those who are elderly and/or dealing with other medical issues are the most vulnerable.

But as bad it may seem right now, let’s take a minute and remember something very important – the COVID-19 virus is a terrible thing but it’s nothing compared to the horrific experiences many of those veterans faced with immense bravery.

There were heinous conditions during every war and conflict the United States has been involved in. Those veterans – many of them were still teenagers – left their families and friends behind to fight in foreign lands. They were forced to grow up quickly and face unbelievable conditions, from days on end in freezing temperatures to the unbelievable heat of jungles. But they did it in the name of freedom and protecting the rights we oftentimes take for granted.

There’s no doubt that we live in the greatest country in the world and we’re lucky to call ourselves Americans. Have no doubt – we’ll get through this pandemic together and come out on the other end stronger than before. And we’ll make sure to honor our veterans this Memorial Day Weekend, even though it will feel quite different.

So however you do it over the next couple of days, please just take some time and pay your respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. It doesn’t matter where they served or what war or conflict they fought in. Each of them deserves our respect and we simply can’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop us from honoring them in our own ways.

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