May 31—MASSENA — After a year in which COVID-19 forced a scaled-down ceremony, the village community commemorated Memorial Day on Monday with a parade and ceremonies in Veterans Memorial Park.
But COVID-19 still played a role. In a typical year, three schools — Massena Central High School, Trinity Catholic School and Holy Name of Jesus Academy — participate and provide music. With schools still under some restrictions, they weren't able to participate this year.
Fred Cockayne, commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 171 and judge advocate of Amvets Post 4, both in Massena, said they were limited in what they could do in 2020. But what mattered was the significance of the day — remembering those who had laid down their lives for their country.
"For the second year in a row, Memorial Day looks a little different than in past year. In many cases, our backyard barbecues and get-togethers are replaced by video chats and other marvels of modern technology," he said. "Still, we hold on to some semblance of what life was and what we know it will return to. And the memories and emotions this day brings are always the same."
Mr. Cockayne said that for many families across the United States, Memorial Day is "a stark and often painful reminder of those who were never afforded the opportunity to be honored as veterans for their service to our country."
"Their sacrifice is a true expression of selfless service, one that no one would pick for themselves. Whether they volunteered at a time of war, served during peacetime or never expected to wear our nation's uniform until their draft card arrived, they represent the best America has to offer," he said.
He asked the crowd to help him recognize families at Monday's ceremony who had seen the loss of a loved one.
"We feel their loss roaming the sacred hills of Arlington National Cemetery and in other final resting places around the world. Too many mothers, fathers, siblings and children feel the immense weight of seeing an empty chair year-round. For them, Memorial Day brings to the forefront what is always operating in the background," Mr. Cockayne said, telling the families, "Your courage and grace after such an unimaginable loss are inspiring."
He noted that this is the 20th year the United States has been at war, "longer than any American conflict that came before."
Roughly 2.7 million Americans had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, and over half of them deployed more than once.
"Those who returned are now our community members, neighbors and friends. In fact, I'm confident if you take the time to learn about any veteran where you live, you'll be floored by the stories of service and sacrifice, known only to those who witnessed it firsthand," Mr. Cockayne said.
"Then, there are the unbelievably brave accounts of heroes who can no longer speak for themselves," he added. "It's up to us to not only tell their stories but to honor their service and memory by ensuring their families and survivors are cared for."
Monday's ceremony also included the laying of memorial wreaths by service organizations, a 21-gun salute by the Amvets Post 4 Rifle Squad and the playing of Taps in front of a large crowd that observed the parade and then the ceremonies in Veterans Memorial Park.