The Twin Counties’ celebrations of Memorial Day this year will be a departure from previous years.
Typically a day of parades and somber services remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the country, this year’s ceremonies will be smaller and abbreviated due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday signed an executive order permitting gatherings of 10 or fewer individuals for Memorial Day commemorations, as long as social-distancing protocols are followed.
Area chapters of the American Legion in Hudson and Chatham will hold small ceremonies with prayers and rifle salutes Monday. The gatherings are not open to the public this year to protect the health of the retired service members.
Not even a global pandemic will stop the Hudson American Legion Post from honoring veterans, said Rick Howland Jr., chaplain of Hudson American Legion Post 184.
“We have continued the tradition since 1919 and we will not miss this,” said Howland, a former Army Reserve captain.
The post worked with the local chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Elks Lodge and Boy Scout Troop 102 to place over 1,000 flags on the graves of service members and widows in Columbia County cemeteries.
“I hope people will take a moment to remember those who served and have passed, because that is what it is all about,” said Hudson American Legion Commander Ed Coons.
Coons said Memorial Day is an important time for veterans to connect with each other. In addition to attending the ceremony at the American Legion, he also plans to reach out to other veterans that he served with during his 21-year military career.
Veterans are bonded by their common experiences, said Gary Flaherty, executive director of the Columbia County Veterans Service Department.
“I care about all of our veterans and I know what they have been through in their lives,” he said. “The war experiences never go away. It is always in your subconscious and different things trigger it.”
Flaherty is supporting veterans through the public health crisis, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder, in his daily work with the Columbia County Veterans Service Department.
“They are really happy to get a phone call from someone who cares about them,” he said.
Flaherty, a retired command major with more than 23 years of active service, plans to place flags on the graves of Columbia County service members and their widows at the Gerald B.H. Solomon National Cemetery in Saratoga on Sunday.
Flaherty placed 438 flags on the graves of service members in Canaan and at the East Chatham and Red Rock cemeteries, he said.
Although the gatherings to commemorate veterans will be smaller this year, honoring the sacrifices of service members remains important, veterans said.
“Regardless of what is going on in the world, the public needs to know we and our partners are obligated by duty to remember our military who have passed on,” said Coons.
Honeyford Memorial American Legion Post 110 in Catskill will hold a ceremony 11 a.m. Monday, but there will be no parade.
“This year we will have a celebration on the courthouse steps on Main Street in Catskill,” Cmdr. Thomas Andreassen said. “The public is invited, and we will be following social distancing. We will have the honor guard and fire the volley in honor of deceased veterans.”
American Legion Post 291 in Greenville will host a service Monday at 10 a.m. at the Veterans Park at the corner of Route 81 and Route 32.
“We are going to have the normal services at the pond at the Veterans Park,” Cmdr. Augustus “Skip” Spinner said. “There is no parade. We are going to have 10 members of the color guard do a small march from the post office or funeral home [on Route 81] to the library. We are the only ones that will be doing it — we are not inviting anyone else because of the way things are today. We had conversations with county officials to get an idea of how many people we can have, and we kept it to 10 members of the color guard.”
The service will be held at the gazebo, Spinner said, and will include a ceremonial rifle salute and the post’s traditional “memorial floating” of a scale model of an aircraft carrier filled with flowers in the park’s pond.
In Coxsackie, this year’s ceremony will be small and private.
“We cancelled the parade and we are trying to do things that won’t attract a big crowd,” said American Legion Post 166 Commander David Cole. “Last year we had a parade and had about 3,000 people. We don’t want to do that this year. On Monday at 1 p.m. at the World War II monument our post chaplain will conduct a prayer service. It will be a small group and we may have somebody play taps, but it will be just a small service.”
The post will also replace several worn-out flags around the community in the coming days, Cole said.
American Legion Mohican Post 983 in Cairo will also honor the day in an abbreviated fashion.
“Because of the coronavirus we will lay a wreath at all the cemeteries on Monday at 11 a.m., with a small group because we can’t have more than 10,” Cmdr. Michael Adrian said. “It will be informal and I will say a few words. We won’t have a parade this year because of the restrictions.”
Tim Broder, a trustee of the Northeast USA Vietnam Veterans Reunion and a veterans advocate, said the country faces a unique challenge.
“We always thought we could fight wars and solve problems,” Broder said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have control over something like this, with an unseen enemy, but always remember the fallen from our many, many wars. Honor the living and remember the fallen.”