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COVID-19 pandemic alters traditional area Memorial Day plans
Cemetery Pic
The Veterans’ Circle at the Great Bend Cemetery is pictured. The cemetery, like many others, will not host formal Memorial Day ceremonies this year, but flags will still be placed around the circle in honor of the holiday. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

How Kansans celebrate Memorial Day this year is set to look a lot different than in past years, shaped by a crisis that has left no aspect of life untouched.

Traditional organized Memorial Day cemetery observances have either been canceled or significantly altered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veterans’ organizations in Great Bend, Claflin and Hoisington have all announced they will not be holding any organized Memorial Day observances at their respective cemeteries. Chris Krueger, Adjutant for the Sons of the American Legion squadron at the Great Bend American Legion Argonne Post 180, advised, though, that flags will still be placed around the Veterans’ Circle at Great Bend Cemetery, and flags will fly as normal on Memorial Day.

Though there will not be any organized ceremonies, he stressed the importance individuals and families taking the time to honor their loved ones on Memorial Day, especially to help future generations remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before.

“It’s important to remember the past,” Krueger said. “It’s important to remember the sacrifices of those that died for our country to protect it.”

According to Hoisington American Legion Post Adjutant Bob Boyle, flags at the Hoisington Cemetery will still fly as normal on Memorial Day, but the decision was made not to hold an organized ceremony due to gathering restrictions set in place by the state. He expressed disappointment, however, at not being able to hold in-person Memorial Day ceremonies.

Ellinwood Hines-Gossman American Legion Post 320 Commander Lloyd Kurtz said their local post would hold a small private prayer and wreath laying at the Ellinwood Cemetery, but the observance would not be for the public, in order to comply with gathering guidelines.

According to Jack Kreiger VFW Post 7271 Adjutant, Phillip Perez, the Walter S. Chears Larned American Legion Post 106 in Larned and Jack Kreiger VFW Post 7271 will still hold a small, modified joint ceremony at 10 a.m. Memorial Day at the Larned Cemetery, hosted by the American Legion Riders. Plans for a service in Pawnee Rock, which is usually handled through Larned, are still undetermined.

To comply with state guidelines regarding social distancing and gathering size, Perez said the event will be a short, small event, likely less than 15 minutes.

He said there will still be a color guard, firing detail for the traditional 21-gun salute, “Taps” will be played, and a wreath will be placed at the Veterans Memorial. There will be no speaker or singing this year.

While the cemetery is open to the public during this time, visitors are urged to use common sense and abide by all social distancing and gathering guidelines.

According to a release from the Kansas Commission on Veterans’ Affairs (KCOVA), traditional in-person Memorial Day Services will also not be held at Kansas’s state veterans’ cemeteries in WaKeeney, Topeka, Fort Riley, Fort Dodge, and Winfeld, but there will be alternate plans in place to honor veterans.

“This service has always been special to our staff and families that we serve,” said Heidi Goff, cemetery manager and assistant director at Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery in WaKeeney. “Because we know how special this day is, we still intend to show the respect and honor that our veterans buried at our cemeteries deserve.”

According to Goff, each veterans’ cemetery’s staff will conduct and record a wreath laying ceremony which will be posted on the KCOVA office Facebook page for each cemetery. They will also be reading a roll call of all veterans who have been laid to rest at each of Kansas’s Veterans’ cemeteries within the past year.