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Ohio Memorial Day observances will be virtual this year

Volunteer Garrick Thompson, a sergeant major with the Ohio National Guard, straightens flags while setting up for the ninth annual Field of Heroes at the Westerville Sports Complex on Friday, May 26, 2017.

BARBARA J. PERENIC, DISPATCH/TNS

By HOLLY ZACHARIAH | The Columbus Dispatch | Published: May 20, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — Crowds can't gather for solemn ceremonies to honor the dead, and bands can't march as they play "You're a Grand Old Flag" because the parades are canceled.

But that doesn't mean in this age of the coronavirus pandemic that communities aren't still finding ways to honor the meaning of Memorial Day.

Even though Gov. Mike DeWine loosened travel restrictions in Ohio on Tuesday, the mass gathering rules remain in place.

So the National Veterans Museum and Memorial and many other organizations and communities are hosting virtual events online this year.

Those offering messages during the event include Cynthia Moriarty, whose 27-year-old son, Army Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, was killed in November 2016 while entering a Jordanian military base on a Special Forces mission, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Several other cities or veterans organizations — including Bexley, Dublin, and Gahanna — are also planning to post virtual tributes or services online.

One of the most popular central Ohio Memorial Day displays every year is the Field of Heroes in Westerville. With its 3,000 American flags dedicated to loved ones, and several days of activities and programming, the event generally packs in crowds.

This year, the flags (permitting that the soggy ground dries out enough) will go up Friday morning as usual but in a new layout to make them more visible for drive-by viewing.

Typically, the flags have dedication tags and messages attached that makes browsing among them an experience. That won' happen this year, said committee chairman Dennis Blair.

The park, across from the Westerville Community Center at 350 N. Cleveland Ave., will be open and people (as long as they stay six feet apart) can still visit, Blair said. But driving by will work just as well.

A somber and poignant tradition, however, will carry on at the field at sunset Friday and Saturday evening: A bugler will play taps as the lights for the display turn on for the night. Organizers hope to use a sound system this year so that it could be heard from farther away.

"That's always so emotional," Blair said. "We really wanted to keep that meaningful experience."

Another regular location for multiple Memorial Day ceremonies honoring the country's war dead is Green Lawn Cemetery. This year those won't happen.

But people can still stop by and honor their loved ones as they see fit, said Randy Rogers, president of the Green Lawn Cemetery Association.

Just like every year, the cemetery received more than 6,000 flags that volunteers would normally place this week on the graves of veterans buried in the cemetery's six military gardens and those who lie elsewhere in family plots.

Crowd restrictions mean volunteer groups won't be able to place them but people can stop by the cemetery office (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Monday, and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday) to get a flag to place themselves.

Matt Zelnik, outreach coordinator for Franklin County Veterans Service Commission, said the commission has given about 16,000 graveside flags to cemeteries and veterans organizations, a number similar to every year.

It's true that large groups of people can't gather to install the flags on veteran graves as is typical, he said, but many will do it with a few volunteers at a time.

The commission made a commercial this year about Memorial Day to sum things up, he said.

"The message was 'This Memorial Day feels different. It is different,' " Zelnik said. "Yet we should still take a moment to pause and reflect."

©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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