Pandemic brings smaller, subdued Memorial Day observances

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Nancy Graham wears a face mask as she takes photos of a gravestone during the coronavirus outbreak at San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio the day before Memorial Day in San Francisco, Sunday, May 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

ST. PETERSBURG – Americans settled for small processions and online tributes instead of parades Monday as they observed Memorial Day in the shadow of the pandemic, which forced communities to honor the nation’s military dead with modest, more subdued ceremonies that also remembered those lost to the coronavirus.

On the weekend that marked the unofficial start of summer, authorities warned people heading to beaches, parks or backyard barbecues to heed social-distancing rules to avoid a resurgence of the disease that has infected 5.4 million people worldwide and killed over 345,000, including nearly 100,000 Americans, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Memorial Day commemorations were canceled or toned down across the country. Veterans, along with nursing home residents, have made up a significant portion of those who died in the U.S. outbreak.

Frank Groblebe and his wife placed lilacs on several graves at Mountview Cemetery in Billings, Montana, including those of his mother and father, who served in the Philippines as a Navy Seabee during World War II. Groblebe said he approved of plans to curtail the ceremony, which included a motorcycle procession and moments of quiet remembrance.

“This is our freedom. This is our history. It’s what they fought for,” Groblebe said, briefly choking up with tears. “Anything that shows respect for it is all right with me."

Sharon Oakland placed mums on the grave of her father, also a Navy veteran in World War II. She watched from a distance as the motorcycles rolled by. “What they’ve done is remarkable given what’s going on with the virus,” she said.

The day looked different across the U.S. The 37,000 American flags traditionally placed on the Boston Common to honor Massachusetts military members who died in service were replaced with just 1,000 flags, to limit volunteers and onlookers. In Minneapolis, several bagpipers and drummers lined up outside the Minnesota Veterans Home and played as a parade of cars drove past.

The city of Woodstock, Georgia, held its ceremony online. American Legion Post 316 Commander Julian Windham recognized service members who helped in the global fight against COVID-19.