The coronavirus might change how Michiganders mark Memorial Day this year, but veterans remind us that it doesn’t change what the day means.
MICHIGAN — Some things cannot be altered by a global pandemic. The meaning behind the sacrifices we remember on Memorial Day is one of them. That’s according to Michigan’s veterans.
From Kalamazoo to Monroe, traditional parades celebrating Memorial Day have been cancelled statewide. Barbecues of more than ten people still are dangerous. The novel coronavirus has changed a lot in the state, and how this holiday will be marked is among the most visible changes.
But that doesn’t mean Michiganders can’t still commemorate the day, they said.
“We are observing Memorial Day at home with our families just like anyone else,” Shelly Cioppa and Cliff Wilson of the Eastpointe Veterans of Foreign Wars said to The ‘Gander. “Because of the pandemic we cannot formally gather to show our support so individuals are splintering off to show support individually but representing our Post.”
Some members of the Eastpointe VFW will be decorating veterans’ gravesites with flags and donating to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to help bereaved families in the wake of a service member’s death.
Cloppa and Wilson asked readers to fly their flags at half-mast and consider decorating or donating to honor the memory of troops, but foremost wanted Michiganders to have a safe and pleasant holiday. They also encouraged readers to take part in the national moment of silence at 3 p.m. Monday.
“The National Moment of Remembrance, officially recognized since the year 2000 by both a Congressional Resolution and a Presidential Proclamation, designates 3 P.M. local time every Memorial Day as an opportunity to pause in an act of national unity for one minute of silence, or post a tribute to a fallen hero on social media.”
Sarah Sikora of Sault Ste. Marie, who served in the Air Force from 2007-13, said that ten veterans will give you ten different perspectives on Memorial Day. But for her, it’s important to take that Moment of Remembrance, or something like it.
“Go to graves of passed military members, talk about them, tell stories. Even if it’s just a solemn moment or prayer if that’s what you’re into,” Sikora told The ‘Gander.
“For me, as a veteran, Memorial Day is the day during the year to remember the people that could have been me. We all sign that blank check, we all know that we could die doing what the government tells us to do.”
Sikora mentioned how important it was to remember that not all people who die in service to the country, even among the military, die in war. She told the story of a Maryland service member who drowned rescuing a woman in floods in Ellicott City last Memorial Day. She wanted to make sure he and people like him were remembered on Memorial Day as well.
“To me, it’s not about blind patriotism,” Sikora added.
Rather than remembering members of the armed services, or any government employee, as part of the political decisions they carry out, Sikora wants Michiganders to remember them as people and set aside politics if only for a day.
“Memorial Day should be a day that we all try our best to not be garbage humans and honor the sacrifices that were made so we are free to be however we want to be the rest of the time,” she said. “Everybody kinda just thinks of it as a free holiday to grill and be off and do ‘Merica things, and that’s all well and good, but it would be nice if people took a little time out to actually remember.”
It isn’t only the soldiers that veterans want Michiganders to think about, though. Ralph Recchia from Dearborn, who served in the army from 1992-2001 and the Air National Guard from 2011-15, wanted readers to keep military families in their minds as well.
“I never knew how much they were forgotten till my wife’s friend who’s a gold star wife told me her issues,” Recchia told The ‘Gander. “They get forgotten on what they have sacrificed by their loved ones passing and the struggle they go through and red tape. Hell, most of them have it worse than some veterans trying to get their benefits.”
Though he’s got a thank-you message to vets on his truck’s tailgate in years passed, Recchia wasn’t exactly sure how to mark the day in the era of coronavirus, but he’ll know when he’s done it right.
“It’s easier on Veterans Day to do versus Memorial Day. Especially if we try and hold true to the meaning of the respective days,” he said. “I know I’ve took the time to on Memorial Day if I’ve overheard a person talking that their child is overseas or that their loved one died on deployment to tell them thank you.”
One of those family members left behind, Jim Comboy from Cheboygan, told The ‘Gander that he’ll be flying a special flag on Monday. It was the flag the VFW gave him in 1971 for his father’s coffin, and it only flies on Memorial Days.