It’s nearly Memorial Day, and the coronavirus is going to do to this holiday what it did to Easter and Passover and Ramadan and basketball and baseball and graduations and prom.
“There will be no parade marching down Main Street this year,” said Mark Dvorak, state commander for the American Legion in Minnesota. “As far as I know, they’ve all been canceled.”
Parades were never the part of Memorial Day that mattered, anyway.
The parades were nice, and the barbecues, and the three-day weekends that opened the pools and started the summer.
But the last Monday of May is the one day a year we remember the lives lost to war and in service to this country. We say their names and share their stories and mourn their loss.
This year, Minnesotans will come together, at a social distance, to remember. We’ll plant flags in the cemeteries. We’ll listen as the church bells toll.
We’ll take a moment to remember all we’ve lost and appreciate all we still have.
“Be kind to one another,” said Susan Edwards, taking a break from her duties as commander of American Legion Post 627 in Nisswa to sew masks — hundreds and hundreds of cloth masks that she gives away to anyone who needs one. “There are a lot of people out there who are really going to be in a hardship, if they’re not already.”
Memorial Day, she said, is a day to share stories. The story of her son, who spent his 21st birthday in Iraq, holding the hand of a dying fellow soldier. The stories her grandmother shared of the soldiers marching off to World War I and the great pandemic that followed. The stories she heard from World War II veterans who won’t be here in September to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the war’s end.
“I’m hoping that 40 years from now when I’m gone, that someone will remember me because I did something to remember somebody else,” Edwards said. “It’s not what’s written up in the famous books in libraries. It’s what people pass on. It’s keeping you alive in the minds of real people.”
So this Memorial Day, in a country already in mourning, a few volunteers will stand in at the cemeteries, reading out every veteran’s name on every tombstone. The speeches from canceled parades and events will air on the radio. Twin Cities Public Television will air footage from state cemeteries and interviews with veterans and Gold Star families in a special broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on Memorial Day.
The pandemic threatens our lives and our livelihoods. But for everything the virus takes, there are people who find ways to give back.
When American Legion posts across Minnesota shut their doors, veterans found a space online where they could meet every week to talk, joke, plan and grieve.
They call it the Buddy Check. One face in a Zoom chat room, then another, then dozens more.
Dvorak, the Legion commander, has counted anywhere from 20 to 60 participants at check-ins in his hometown of New Prague.
“If you’re feeling depressed and bummed out, get on this line and we’ll get you help right away,” Dvorak said. “It’s affecting a lot of people. Not just our veterans.”
When the American Legion canceled its 2020 baseball league season, devastated fans in New Prague cheered themselves up by raising enough money to buy lunch for health care workers at the hospital and clinics.
“Memorial Day will happen,” Edwards said. “It might not happen the way we’re used to it happening, but it’s not about the parades and the barbecues and the gatherings. It’s about remembering. We keep our veterans and our combat fallen alive by telling their stories.”
If you have a story to share this Memorial Day, you can share it online with the hashtag #VirtualMemorialDay.
If you’d like to give back in the middle of all this pandemic loss, the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota are raising money for COVID-19 relief for veterans and families at ihelpveterans.org.