WORTHINGTON — The worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has led to the cancellation of many events in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa since mid-March, including the Memorial Day programs many communities typically host to honor their fallen heroes.
“I think everybody out here still has it in their heart and it’s not going to be a day that we just forget,” said Brewster American Legion Post Commander Tom Behrends of the approaching holiday Monday. “I think everybody who is patriotic and touched by this day, they’re probably going to remember this weekend forever. We’re going to be honoring solo, a lot of us.”
In Brewster, Legion and Auxiliary members will do what they can to both honor and remember the military veterans who have served this country. On Saturday, they will raise the flags at their cemeteries and erect memorial crosses in the Brewster City Park, which will remain on display until Tuesday morning.
“I think we’re going to get the bugle out and play taps (after the crosses are raised), just to signal to the town that the weekend has started,” Behrends said. “We can do the social distance and get the flags up … and the crosses in the park and people can come and see those.”
Absent will be any type of program on Monday, though Behrends said the Brewster Veterans Memorial Facebook page will provide links to the video of last year’s Memorial Day address by Vietnam veteran Keith Carey, and he hoped to also upload video remembering a Kansas soldier shot during his tour of duty in Iraq back in 2007. The soldier was in Behrends’ unit.
“My intention is to show that to let people see what we did for soldiers on that side of the pond,” Behrends said. “It’s a pretty solemn thing to hear.
“I think if I can get that out there (on the Facebook page), it will be a good reminder of the day,” he added.
In Worthington, veterans with VFW Post 3958 raised the big flags at the Worthington Cemetery Thursday afternoon, in addition to getting help from Early Risers Kiwanis members to place flags at the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.
Vietnam-era veteran and Legion member Steve Ahlberg said it will be a different Memorial Day for the Legion members who typically lead programs at five different locations in Worthington — the Garden of Memories, St. Mary’s Cemetery, Worthington Cemetery, Freedom Shore Veterans Memorial Park and in Chautauqua Park.
“We’ve had some weather (issues) where we’ve had to move to another location, but nothing like this,” Ahlberg said. “We’re saddened by it, but we realize we have to look out for the public — especially here in Worthington.”
Ahlberg said the ‘Amazing’ Worthington City Band was nervous about playing in a program because of the potential for droplets to scatter from their horn section. Despite an outdoor bandshell, there was just too much risk.
Nobles County remains the fourth highest in positive COVID-19 cases in Minnesota.
In the northern part of the county, the Wilmont VFW is also placing flags at individual grave sites at the Reading, St. Kilian and Wilmont cemeteries, but the programs and Memorial Day luncheon are cancelled.
Commander Merle Rabenberg said taps will be played at all three cemeteries Monday morning — 9 a.m. at Reading; 9:30 a.m. at St. Kilian and 10 a.m. at Wilmont . If people plan to attend to hear the bugle, they are asked to practice social distancing.
Social distancing is encouraged for everyone who plans to visit a cemetery this weekend.
“There’s a lot of caution out there and people want to be safe,” Behrends said. “The veteran bunch, as a whole, is up in years, and it’s something we’ve really got to be careful about.”
Nationwide, American Legion Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford is encouraging communities to pay tribute to America’s fallen heroes at dusk on Monday by lighting candles of honor and placing them on front porches.
“Such a display will remind everyone that our resolve to honor those who served before us will continue even as social-distancing measures limit our ability to perform traditional Memorial Day remembrances,” Oxford said. “We must adapt and overcome the pandemic in order to pay our respects to the true meaning of Memorial Day.”
Candle color options to consider are: A red candle to remember the blood shed in battle for the protection of freedoms; a white candle to keep POWs/MIAs in thoughts and prayers while awaiting their return home; and/or a blue candle to salute the memories of those who made it home but are no longer with us.
“However you choose, whether it’s one candle or three, I ask that photos of those candles be shared on social media, tagging The American Legion National Headquarters and using the hashtag #candlesofhonor so our message will reach families everywhere,” Oxford said.
Also, share who you will be remembering this Memorial Day on social media using the hashtag #VirtualMemorialDay.