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Orange County quietly honors Memorial Day while fighting an invisible foe

This Memorial Day, Americans are in the midst of fighting an invisible foe in their own backyards.

Unlike traditional conflicts, the battle does not involve boot camp and barracks, nor bullets and bombs. And while people may be sick of their homes, at least they’re not homesick – from thousands of miles across an ocean.

Today we honor the brave men and women who have sacrificed their comforts, their safety and their lives to serve our country.

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As with everything else, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the shape of Memorial Day this extraordinary year.

In normal times, local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign War and the American Legion help cities present inspirational ceremonies – with military honor guards, patriotic music, 21-gun salutes and speeches. But, due to social distancing constraints, normal is not possible this year.

Orange County organizations have gotten creative in preserving at least some aspects of their Memorial Day tributes.

Fountain Valley, for instance, will host a live Facebook broadcast of a flag-raising ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday. The event will be presented by the West Orange County VFW Post 9557.

“Normally, we have about 100 people in the audience,” said post commander Alan Marcum. “Last year, the Fountain Valley High School band performed. Obviously, we can’t do any of that this time.”

Instead, a handful of of city officials and VFW members will convene at City Hall, where the flag will be flown at half-staff. Although a crowd would not be welcomed, residents can watch the ceremony in real time from home.

Marcum noted that the coronavirus also thwarted VFW’s biggest nationwide fundraiser – the Buddy Poppy Program, started after World War I. Over Memorial Day weekend, members distribute cloth flowers to solicit donations for disabled and struggling veterans.

“We are extremely disappointed, but it can’t be helped,” Marcum said. “Many of our members are in a vulnerable age group. Health is our primary concern this year.”

Dana Point also will present a virtually aired Memorial Day program outside City Hall at 10 a.m. – this one live on YouTube. It will include a “Boots and Rifle” ritual and bugle call by members of VFW Post 9934.

“It’s normally a major event at Pines Park with 300 people attending,” said post quartermaster Bill Manes. “We are happy we could find a different way to honor our fallen this year.”

Huntington Beach, too, will offer a remote experience, although prerecorded.

“We brainstormed and came up with the idea of broadcasting last year’s ceremony for people to enjoy,” said Dennis Bauer, adjutant for American Legion Post 133.

A few city officials and VFW members got together Wednesday, May 20, to film a brief introduction – a far cry from the hundreds who normally attend the Pier Plaza event. The ceremony will air on the city’s website and cable television station.

VFW’s Kazuo Masuda Memorial 3670 Post, based in Garden Grove, will receive rather than produce a video.

The chapter’s members have hosted a large ceremony at Westminster Memorial Park for half a century, but nothing of the sort can happen this year. So a Masuda Middle School music teacher and two students made them a “thank you” video – each from their separate homes.

In it, Rob Covacevich plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” on sax, followed by one seventh grader singing “God Bless America” and another performing “Taps” on trumpet. They will email their gift to the veterans on Monday.

“We have worked closely over the last two years with our local post,” Covacevich said. “They are wonderful people who mean so much to us. We want to show our appreciation for them in this unprecedented time.”

For more than 60 years, Brea has honored the fallen with its breathtaking “Avenue of the Flags” service at Memory Garden – featuring 1,300 full-sized burial flags flying from 15-foot poles. Members of VFW Post 5384 spend days in advance placing small flags on the graves of the more than 3,300 service members buried at the cemetery.

This year, all of that has been pared back to the simple laying of a wreath. “It takes two people to put up the flags, so there’s no way to socially distance,” said post commander Gary Colletti. “Hopefully, we will be back next year.”

Another one of Orange County’s biggest Memorial Day events takes place in Fullerton at Loma Vista Memorial Park, with a ceremony that attracts thousands. Beforehand, volunteers place crosses and flags at graves of more than 4,300 veterans.

Going on its 82nd year, the labor-intensive remembrance has been vastly abbreviated. On Monday, half a dozen participants will leave a wreath at the cemetery’s flagpole. “We’re not even announcing the time, because we can’t have a huge outpouring,” said Ed Paul, adjutant of Fullerton American Legion Post 142.

The group considered planting flags in just one section of the cemetery, Paul said. “But that would have annoyed people with loved ones in the other areas,” he pointed out. “Where would we draw the line?”

Laguna Beach VFW Post 5868 did manage to carry out its 20-year tradition of placing American flags on downtown parking meters. But there will not be the customary pancake breakfast and ceremony at Heisler Park.

“It’s sad we can’t do that because the VFW has lost so many great people in recent years, and it’s a chance to remember them,” said local trustee Pete Sandro. “Our post was four times bigger when I first got involved.”

Still, Sandro reminded, our fallen heroes can be honored on Memorial Day with or without a ceremony: “Just keep them in your heart.”


Source: Orange County Register

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