GENESEO - Two by two veterans in Geneseo walked up and down each row of Temple Hill Cemetery, stopping to pull out the small American flags placed last year and replace them with new flags.
They do it quietly, without any fanfare.
“We just honor the veterans that passed. There is no service,” said Ron Long of Geneseo Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5005.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there will be no parades or ceremonies. The bands marching up and down Main Street have been silenced by the virus and state orders that continue to restrict large gatherings.
For many veterans, the Memorial Day commemorations are one of the most significant events of the year and something that they look forward to.
“Memorial Day is very special because that is honoring all of the veterans that have gone before us and that is very important to continue to do that,” said Dennis Staley, commander of American Legion Post 271 in Geneseo.
It is a very different time from one year ago when marching bands and grand marshals drove through the streets, alongside color guards. There were solemn ceremonies with rifle salutes and renditions of “Taps” as surviving veterans and the families of those who died paid tribute to millions of brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The passing of another year also brings additional declining numbers of veterans still alive. World War II veterans still alive, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, numbered around 496,000 Americans as of September 2018. America is losing 372 veterans per day and only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2016, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Scores of local soldiers, many of them friends and neighbors, laid down their lives to defend liberty and fight tyranny in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans said people should think of the fallen on Memorial Day and carry them in our hearts as long as we live.
“Most of all on Memorial Day remember and take a minute out of your day and remember all the veterans, World War I and World War II and all the people that have died for our freedoms,” said Staley.
The times have changed and some said the definition of what a veteran is could also be expanding. “Our warriors now are the health care professionals, nurses, EMTs. I can not imagine the courage it takes to strap on that PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and go into one of those wards. We are going to have a lot more new veterans if we look at the category a little broader,” said Jim Decamp, himself a Vietnam veteran.
In addition to honoring veterans, the local veterans are also encouraging people to serve their community in other ways such as helping out at a food pantry or the local hospice. Several veterans said that saying thank you to a veteran for their service is appreciated, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it is also important to help out the community.
“This is the next biggest threat and a lot of us are not ready for it,” said Decamp. “A lot of us are not used to sacrifice. A lot of us are complaining that they can not get haircuts. We have been called to do some things and we have to do them.”
Veterans admit this Memorial Day will be different as they adjust to the new normal in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the people that have died for our freedoms. I think we can relate to freedom now that we are all somewhat restricted to our homes and our lifestyle has turned upside down,” said Staley. “We are trying to keep as much normalcy as we can for the day.”