Memorial Day may feel very different this year. It will look different, too.
Restrictions on public gatherings at local cemeteries are still in place because of coronavirus concerns, and that means traditional Memorial Day events and ceremonies have been canceled.
But it doesn't mean Americans cannot remember and honor the fallen.
On the contrary, local veterans advocates and cemetery directors don’t want Americans to lose sight of the true purpose of Memorial Day: honoring those servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
"We must continue to honor and remember these real heroes. We must consider it our duty to never, ever forget them," said Marc Sandall, who has been involved for years in organizing and volunteering to help with local Memorial Day ceremonies and other events and projects supporting local veterans, past and present.
Retired Marine Dick Taylor, the former director of the Kern County Veterans Service Department who's remained active in veterans affairs and services, said Memorial Day 2020 finds us in circumstances most have never experienced before.
"The one thing that is not different this year is our dedication to honor the memory of those who have been killed in action in service to our great nation," Taylor said.
Both Taylor and Sandall assisted in producing a video recorded earlier this week at Union Cemetery. The virtual Memorial Day ceremony is intended to allow members of the public and families of fallen veterans to participate in the annual remembrance without being at a crowded event.
"This is the first time we've had to do this," said Griselda Hurtada, association manager at Union Cemetery. "It's hard for us to not be hosting a live event for the veterans."
A lot of area residents are disappointed by the changes this year, Hurtada said.
"We've been fielding a lot of calls," she said. "But our hands are kind of tied."
Union's video event will be available beginning at 9 a.m. Monday, both on Union's Facebook page and on its website.
Randy Heard, cemetery director at Bakersfield National Cemetery, nestled in the oak-dotted hills east of Bakersfield, is in a similar quandary, but with an additional challenge.
"A lot of cemeteries are doing Facebook Live, but because of bad internet here, that's not possible for us," he said.
Instead, the cemetery will hold a small, private event this weekend, and with help from local television news and The Californian, the event will come to viewers and readers through video and still photos.
Just like at a normal Memorial Day ceremony, a special wreath will be placed, the main flag will be lowered to half staff, a rifle volley will be fired three times, and two buglers will play the somber notes of taps below powder-blue skies.
The sculpted hills, ancients oaks and silent gravestones will be their only audience.
One thing hasn't changed, Heard said.
"Families can visit loved ones at the cemetery seven days a week, sunup to sundown."
Visiting hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
No live, public events. A virtual Memorial Day event will be available on Union's Facebook page beginning at 9 a.m. Monday.
BAKERSFIELD NATIONAL CEMETERY
Visiting hours: Sunup to sundown
No live, public events. A private Memorial Day event will be filmed and photographed for distribution in The Californian and other local media.
In lieu of traditional Memorial Day events, which were canceled due to coronavirus restrictions, executives at Greenlawn Cemeteries, along with local veterans from VFW Post 97 and Kern County Veterans Service Department, will walk the Greenlawn Northeast Cemetery grounds to identify the unmarked graves of servicemembers with the intention of placing new headstones on those graves. In addition, hundreds of flags will be planted throughout the cemetery over veterans’ graves.
Gate open daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
KERN RIVER VALLEY CEMETERY
Flags will be displayed at the cemetery, but no public Memorial Day service will be held this year. Flags will be displayed at the district's Veteran’s Memorial, along the cemetery driveways, and on the graves of veterans.
PARADE FOR SENIOR LIVING CENTERS
In the days of COVID-19, people don't go to parades. Rather, parades come to people. Starting Monday at about 9 a.m., volunteers from Honor Flight Kern County and other local groups will host a vehicle and flags parade through five senior living centers in Bakersfield, including Columbus Estates; Magnolia Place; Solstice; Brookdale; and The Palms. Many residents of these facilities have been isolated due to coronavirus concerns, said Honor Flight founder Lili Marsh.
"We’re just letting them know that we have not forgotten."