Veterans groups adjust to COVID-19; fallen service members will be honored privately
By DAVID HURST | The Tribune-Democrat | Published: May 12, 2020
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WINDBER, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Most years, a crowd of more than 60 volunteers — veterans, Boy Scouts and church members — spend the weekend before Memorial Day decorating military graves across the Windber area.
But COVID-19 restrictions are forcing the tradition — as well as Windber’s annual Memorial Day ceremony — to be far less public, according to Bob Portante, a Windber VFW Post 4795 member and the event coordinator.
Local vets still plan to gather privately to salute those who gave all for freedom — at a time that will not be announced to the public.
“With Somerset County moving into the yellow phase ... we’re lucky that we’ll at least be able to allow the veterans themselves to participate in a Memorial Day service — from a safe distance,” Portante said.
Cambria and Somerset counties will shift Friday from the current stay-at-home order to a “cautionary” yellow phase that permits gatherings of up to 25 people, provided that social distancing and other safety measures are followed.
Between organizers and individuals affiliated with the Windber Veterans Association, the event will likely hit that 25-person limit, he acknowledged. The association includes American Legion Windber Post 137, Windber VFW Post 4795, the World War II 50th Anniversary Commemorative Committee and the Windber Veterans Park Committee, Portante said.
The moment will include "Taps" and a rifle salute, and will likely wrap up within 10 minutes, he said.
“It’s not going to be the same,” Portante said. “But the good news is that we can still do something for them.”
He said veterans’ graves won’t be forgotten either.
The group isn’t publicizing a date, but volunteers from the VFW and American Legion will work to ensure that hundreds of military graves still receive new miniature flags later this month, Portante said.