Among the casualties in a pandemic that has taken thousands of lives are the solemn ceremonies that would have been held this holiday weekend in honor of thousands of other lives that men and women in uniform gave for their country.
The weight of that loss is felt keenly by Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 Commander Pete Meier, who with his color guard would have spent Memorial Day morning paying homage to those men and women as well as veterans who passed away in peacetime.
Meier, the rest of Post 64 and most everyone will be remembering them in more private ways.
For the first time since the National Cemetery of Arizona was created in 1978, there will be no Memorial Day ceremony and most communities have canceled theirs.
All national cemeteries, even the 624-acre National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, are closed to large gatherings.
“The health and safety of visitors, veterans, volunteers and team members must be our primary consideration at this time,” the National Cemetery Administration says on its website, stating it was a “difficult decision to not host public events for Memorial Day, including the mass placement and retrieval of gravesite flags by any groups.”
Noting thousands of volunteers gather throughout the weekend to place and retrieve American flags on gravesites, “limiting the number of volunteers is not practical.”
“Cemetery staff will conduct a wreath-laying ceremony to officially commemorate Memorial Day,” the National Cemetery Administration said, adding photos of that ceremony will be posted on its Facebook site.
On Memorial Day, however, “families and friends are welcome to place flowers or individual flags at veterans’ gravesites.”
The pandemic has impacted the cemetery in other ways.
“Even the funerals that they’re having there now – they only allow 10 people at any given time and they don’t want an honor guard there because they’re all active military that perform that ceremony,” said Meier, who served in the Army from 1965-68.
The cemetery requires grieving family and friends to remain in their vehicles during interment or suggests they postpone a funeral for a later, perhaps safer time.
The pandemic has impacted Post 64 – Ahwatukee’s only military service organization – in other ways as well.
Its group activities have been canceled and the one activity its approximate 215 members do engage in is a buddy check, with members checking on their fellow Legionnaires, many of whom are of the age that puts them in a high-risk category for the virus.
“They see how everyone’s doing and if they need any help with anything,” Meier explained.
The disruption – which comes in a year when the 75th anniversary of Germany’s May 8, 1945, surrender – has threatened other Post 64 and American Legion traditions.
Meier said Post 64’s annual flag retirement ceremony on June 14, Flag Day, likely will be “low-key with just a few people.”
The American Legion’s state and national conventions have been canceled.
Also canceled was the 2020 Arizona Boys State, a week-long program that gives select high school boys a chance to learn how government works. It’s unclear whether a similar program for girls sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary is still on.
Post 64 last met March 18 – three days after the first state order closing schools and less than two weeks before Arizona’s first stay-at-home order.
The post meets at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center, which also has been closed since mid-March.
Meier expects the ARC to reopen either June 1 or June 15, though he expects activities there and the number of people who can participate in them will be controlled for social-distancing precautions.
But just because there are no 21-gun salutes, no taps and no formal gatherings doesn’t mean the purpose of Memorial Day should be ignored.
Asked what citizens can do to observe the day, Meier replied:
“Being that the country is in distress, I would encourage all of them to fly the flag on their house. The old saying is ‘United We Stand.’ Put the flag out and give themselves a few moments of silence for the people they knew who went into the service and have passed away and recognize them that way.
“I wouldn’t encourage a meeting in groups or anything until it opens up more in a few weeks, but they can show unity by putting the flag out, flying the flag during daylight hours and honoring people that way. Give them a moment of silence, a salute and give them their due.”