At the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley, for the first time in 25 years, events related to Memorial Day have been altered.
Due to restrictions for COVID-19, almost all formal ceremonies across the United States have been canceled or modified.
Instead of hundreds of community members setting flags on each of the gravesites in preparation for Memorial Day, only small groups or individuals visited the cemetery on Saturday, and fewer flags were available.
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“Flag Placement Day” — a tradition that usually draws dozens of youth groups, community organizations and veterans’ families — was a quiet, somber event with attendees spread out.
“Normally, there would be 500 to 600 volunteers through here by now,” said Brett Palmer, president of the Nevada Veteran’s Coalition, as he greeted visitors and handed out flags. “Now we have only small groups — a ‘large’ group of eight just left, a family. They’re each paying their individual respects. That’s how it’ll be for the next two and a half days.”
In previous years, the more than 8,500 veterans laid to rest at the cemetery — as well as millions of others across the nation — would be recognized during ceremonies that draw thousands of family and community members.
“Usually there’s be 3,500 and another 1,000 after the ceremony throughout (Memorial Day),” Palmer said. “It’s a big day to honor our heroes.”
Eliminating Monday’s ceremony was a difficult decision, according to a prepared statement from the Nevada Department of Veterans Services.
“Making this change was not a decision that we, or the lead veterans service organizations, made lightly, and no one is more disappointed than the organizers of these events that they cannot cover the cemetery with flags as they have done in the past,” Kat Miller, NDVS director, said in the press release. “In the end, the safety of our veterans and their families made a modification necessary. Please do know, however, that you are welcome to visit and honor those who have earned our deepest respect as long as you can safely do so.”
Among those at the cemetery Saturday was Sydney Malcolm of Sparks. She spent the morning decorating a bench placed in memory of her daughter-in-law who served in the Air Force, TSgt. Stephanie Ronecker McLaughlin. Along with a laminated card with a photo and poem describing “Stephie”, who passed away in 2015, Malcolm added rows of flags along the outer edges of the granite bench.
“We have to honor those who have paid the ultimate price and those who served and protected us. We don’t want to lose sight of what the cost is for all of our freedoms,” said Malcolm.
Beatriz Hallberg of Fallon sat near a memorial with her three children.
“I retired from the Army after 16 years,” said Hallberg, who participated in Honor Guard at the cemetery several times. “I handed the baton to (her oldest daughter) and my younger (children) are at an age to understand more than anything. These veterans gave their lives to have the America we have today. We’re doing our part to never forget.”
Hallberg’s daughter, Myrella Ramos, recently returned from training with the National Guard.
“I joined due to inspiration from my family,” said Ramos. “Both of my parents, my grandparents were in the service. I was raised in a household that taught me to love my country… and it felt right to join and serve.”
Korean veteran Charlie Stockford placed flags near several gravesites.
“I have about five friends buried out here, that’s one reason I came out today,” said the Sun Valley resident. “I’ve been out in past years; come out with the American Legion.”
A handful of attendees expressed frustration that the Memorial Day ceremony could not be conducted.
“We come out every year and help set up flags and wreaths,” said Judy Migan of Dayton. “This is all very unusual. It’s still beautiful.”
Jim Sullivan, a former Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, said he thought the restrictions were too severe.
“I think it’s 100 percent crap,” said Sullivan, after Palmer helped him use an online search tool to locate a friend’s gravesite. “I don’t understand how people can be in Walmart but not out here to show respect.”
The NDVS statement reminded community members that — even though a formal ceremony is canceled — the cemetery remains open. The public can place “flags or flowers at burial sites but must observe social distancing protocols to protect themselves and other visitors who come to the cemeteries to remember and honor our fallen.” Facial coverings are encouraged.
The NDVS also produced two videos to memorialize the fallen — one for the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery and a second for the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. They can be viewed online at: www.veterans.nv.gov.
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