Americans Gather for Virtual Tributes to Honor Fallen Troops on Memorial Day

Richard Sisk

The American Legion is calling on Americans to light candles at dusk on Memorial Day to remember and honor those who fell in the nation's battles -- from Bunker Hill to Fallujah and all the nameless places in between.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is also asking for a virtual gathering, calling for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time throughout the nation.

Read Next: Thunder's End: Rolling Thunder to Mark Final Memorial Day Event

The Veterans of Foreign Wars simply asked for a period of reflection to remember "the service men and women we have lost over the course of history," said VFW National Commander William "Doc" Schmitz.

The calls for personal tributes comes after many of the traditional public events marking Memorial Day were canceled or significantly altered amid restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Washington, D.C., the roar of motorcycles that was a feature of Memorial Day weekends for the last 32 years was absent.

The 2019 "Rolling Thunder" tribute was the last. The AMVETS veterans service organization had planned a scaled-down version of Rolling Thunder to be called "Rolling to Remember," but the event as planned was canceled and will now go virtual.

The traditional "Flags In" ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, in which members of the "Old Guard," the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, place flags at each headstone, took place as usual last Thursday, but was closed to the public.

Arlington will be open only to family members on Memorial Day, and they will be limited to visiting gravesites.

The central event for all Memorial Days -- the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington by the president or a designate, followed by a speech to the nation from the amphitheater -- had been canceled this year because of the COVID-19 restrictions still in effect in northern Virginia.

President Donald Trump's schedule changed Sunday, however, and he was expected to lay a wreath at the tomb before continuing on to Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

There, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will join Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. Fort McHenry is best known as the place where the battle against the British during the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott to write the poem that became the "Star Spangled Banner."

At the fort, Trump and the First Lady "will again lead the American people in solemn remembrance of those brave American patriots who laid down their lives so we can live in the land of the free," the White House said in a statement.

One of the exceptions to the closings is the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which will officially reopen on Memorial Day. But visitors will be required to wear face masks and observe social distancing.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, will be closed but there will be virtual events including the tolling of a bell for the fallen.

To guard against the threat of the novel coronavirus, all cemeteries overseas run by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) will be closed to the public, including the iconic cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking the D-Day beaches of Normandy. AMBC will instead have two virtual events.

The 142 national cemeteries, with more than 4.7 million gravesites run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, will be open to the public, but Memorial Day ceremonies will be closed.

"It is true that this Memorial Day is somewhat different," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in his Memorial Day message.

"As we fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not gather as we normally would to honor our nation's heroes, but we can still remember and honor them by spending a quiet moment paying homage to their courage and sacrifice."

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect changes in the president's schedule.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: Strict Rules in Place for National Cemetery Visits on Memorial Day