May 31—For the people who gathered at Centennial Memorial Park in Anniston, the names engraved on the memorial walls are "not just phone-book names," Ken Rollins said.
"They're human," Rollins said. "They're people. They had a family that got a phone call or a telegram."
Rollins spoke to a crowd of around 150 people Monday morning at the park next to Quintard Avenue, where the names of Alabama's war dead, as well as the names of fallen police and firefighters, are etched into black stone near a pool in the shape of the state.
The Memorial Day ceremony at the park has been a tradition since the early 1990s. It didn't happen in 2020, though, because of pandemic-era restrictions on crowds and concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
The toll of the virus is hard to grasp, but Monday's event was another reminder of the enormity of the pandemic. Rollins and others said there are roughly 11,000 names on the walls of the memorial, which commemorates more than a century of Alabama's war dead, from World War I to today.
The state has lost 11,416 people to the coronavirus as of Monday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
But it's impossible to mourn a phone book. Speakers at the Monday event often mentioned a name — Eli Henderson, the Marine veteran and county commissioner who died of the virus last year.
Rollins credited Henderson's political pull for the existence of the memorial park.
"I appreciate the legacy, given to Eli, that will follow him from this day through eternity," said Carolyn Henderson, Eli Henderson's widow and his successor on the county commission.
The events of the Memorial Day ceremony were nearly unchanged from previous years. School-age members of the Young Marines ceremonially built a "battlefield cross" out of a rifle, helmet and boots. Adult volunteers sent up a three-shot rifle volley and played "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.
For many in the crowd, though, something seemed different.
"It's been a rough year," said Alexandria resident Bea Holman, a Desert Storm veteran. "With everybody staying away, and staying separated. It's kind of hard to put into words."
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.