US faces Memorial Day like no other

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US faces Memorial Day like no other

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

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ATLANTA, United States (AP) — Americans marked a Memorial Day like no other yesterday as the coronavirus pandemic upended traditional commemorations and forced communities to honour the nation's military dead with smaller, more subdued ceremonies like car convoys and online tributes instead of parades.

On the weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer, US authorities warned beach-goers to heed social-distancing rules to avoid a resurgence of the disease that has infected 5.4 million people worldwide and killed more than 345,000, including nearly 100,000 Americans, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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

The 37,000 American flags traditionally placed on the Boston Common to honour Massachusetts military members who died in service were replaced with just 1,000 flags, to limit volunteers and onlookers.

The city of Woodstock, Georgia, held its remembrance ceremony online. American Legion Post 316 Commander Julian Windham recognised military members aiding in the global fight against the virus.

“Even when the enemy is an invisible virus, or a microscopic germ, the sacrifices made are just as meaningful,” Windham said. The ceremony, which included readings, vocal performances and gunshots from a ceremonial rifle team, had been filmed over a series of days last week and later edited together, Windham said.

In Chicago, a neighbourhood group that's been holding a parade for more than a half century also moved its event online, with video clips from previous years and messages from special guests, including veterans and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. In the suburb of Lisle, a convoy of vehicles from area fire departments and VFW posts drove silently through village streets in what officials said was a safe and unique way of observing the holiday.

Fallen military members were honoured in New York City with car convoys and small ceremonies this year rather than parades to conform with lockdown restrictions.

“It's something we're upset about, but we understand,” said Raymond Aalbue, chairman of the United Military Veterans of Kings County, which usually puts on a parade in Brooklyn. There's “no reason to put anybody in harm's way,” he said, adding “it's really cutting quick to the heart of all the veterans.”

On New York's Long Island, a small group of veterans saluted, wearing masks and spaced several feet apart, as a parade of cars passed beneath a large American flag.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joined a private ceremony at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, with both the sacrifices of military members and the current challenge of coronavirus on his mind.

“Over 100,000 Americans will lose their lives to this COVID virus. How do we honour them? We honour them by growing stronger together,” he said.

“We want to make sure we remember them and thank our heroes today.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in more than two months by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home. He wore a face mask as he and his wife bowed their heads in silence. He saluted and could be heard saying “Never forget”.

Biden told reporters, “I feel great to be out here.” He also yelled to a group standing nearby, “Thank you for your service.”

After two days of playing golf, President Donald Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery, where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which overlooks rolling hills dotted with white tombstones. He later spoke at Baltimore's historic Fort McHenry, noting that tens of thousands of service members and national guard personnel are currently “on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus”.

Trump said brave warriors from the nation's past have shown that “in America, we are the captains of our own fate”.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C “Jack” Young has criticised Trump's visit, saying the city cannot afford it and that the trip sends the wrong message about stay-at-home directives.

Tens of thousands of Americans still headed to beaches and parks, relieved to shake off some pandemic restrictions.


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