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Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bob Workman of Boston, the past commander of the Boston Police VFW, replaces flags at veteran’s graves ahead of Memorial Day on May 27, 2021, in the Fairview Cemetery in Boston. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the agency will host public Memorial Day ceremonies throughout the United States for the first time in two years since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bob Workman of Boston, the past commander of the Boston Police VFW, replaces flags at veteran’s graves ahead of Memorial Day on May 27, 2021, in the Fairview Cemetery in Boston. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the agency will host public Memorial Day ceremonies throughout the United States for the first time in two years since the coronavirus pandemic began. (Josh Reynolds/AP Photo)

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will host public ceremonies throughout the United States for the first time in two years since the coronavirus pandemic began.

VA officials said veterans, families and the public are welcome to attend in-person traditional VA Memorial Day ceremonies held May 28 through May 30, which is Memorial Day. The VA’s National Cemetery Administration maintains 155 national cemeteries and 34 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 43 states and Puerto Rico.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, the VA’s national cemeteries were opened from dawn to dusk on Memorial Day, but the usual memorial events to honor service members were brief and closed to the public.

The VA also issued guidelines about how its 142 national cemeteries should observe Memorial Day in May 2020. Cemeteries were open for people to visit gravesites, but visitors were asked to distance themselves. Moreover, the VA restricted all public ceremonies and barred groups from placing flags at veterans’ headstones — a Memorial Day tradition.

In May 2021, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its guidance on mask-wearing and social distancing. However, it didn’t give the VA enough time to coordinate large events for Memorial Day weekend last year.

Nevertheless, the VA lifted masks and social distancing requirements at its national veterans cemeteries for people who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. But the agency maintained restrictions on gathering sizes at funeral services.

This year, the usual ceremonies with large public gatherings to honor fallen veterans and service members will resume, including wreath-laying ceremonies and flags being placed at each gravesite.

“There is no more fitting place to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans and service members than in a national cemetery,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “Here lie those who served, sacrificed and — in many cases — gave their lives for us and our country. We are forever in their debt.”

McDonough will officiate the wreath-laying ceremony at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen on Memorial Day. VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy will preside the wreath-laying ceremony at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas, and Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Matt Quinn will attend the wreath-laying ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Quinn will also give the keynote address at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

The VA also said live streaming and recorded video and photographs of the ceremonies will be posted on the National Cemetery Administration’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

To view the list of Memorial Day events, visit https://www.cem.va.gov/Memorial-Day/.

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Sara Samora is a Marine Corps veteran and the veterans reporter for Stars and Stripes. A native Texan, she previously worked at the Houston Business Journal and the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. She also serves on the boards of Military Veterans in Journalism and the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals.
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