Groups find new ways to mark Memorial Day

Retired Navy Commander Master Chief Chuck Baldwin is video taped for a presentation at the Commission of Veterans Affairs office in Dover on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Memorial Day 2020 shall not pass without public observance.

With COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings still in place, organizations in downstate Delaware are employing virtual and drive-in settings for Memorial Day honoring the men and women who died while serving in the United States military.

Meanwhile, American Legion Post 17 family in Lewes and other American Legion posts are following the National Call to Action, asking all citizens to light candles this Memorial Day in the absence of large gatherings currently prohibited under COVID-19 restrictions.

The Legion Post 17 family is also promoting National Poppy Day, Friday, May 22, in an awareness effort modified this year due to the pandemic.

Locally, one Memorial Day initiative is a virtual ceremony planned by the Kent County Chapter 850 Vietnam Veterans of America in lieu of its annual Memorial Day ceremony at Kent Veterans Park, which will not be held this year.

“After canceling our March Vietnam Veterans Day, we decided to create a virtual Memorial Day ceremony that will be inserted on social media next Monday, May 25,” said Dave Skocik, public affairs officer for the Delaware Council, Vietnam Veterans of America.

The first part of the virtual ceremony was scheduled to be taped May 20 at the Commission of Veterans Affairs office, with individual presenters separately taped for later post-production work before the holiday. Presenters include: Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen; Larence Kirby, executive director, Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs; and keynote speaker Charles “Chuck” Baldwin, retired command master chief, U.S. Navy.

Delaware filmmaker T.J. Healy, a fellow Vietnam veteran, has agreed to produce the show.

The public can learn about the lives of local World War II servicemen who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country on a self-guided “World War II local Heroes Tour” at Lakeside Cemetery on North State Street in Dover. Information will be available showcasing over 80 local WWII servicemen for the public to view from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 25. Organizers ask that visitors adhere to all social distancing rules while attending.

In Georgetown this Sunday, May 24, the First Baptist Church will hold a drive-in church service to honor those that paid the ultimate price. The event begins at 11 a.m. in the parking lot of the church at 20304 Dupont Boulevard.

The outdoor service will include dedication of 18 flags donated last year for the fallen heroes of Delaware.

Attendees are encouraged to stay in their vehicles, keep windows rolled up and tune car radios to 105.1 FM. In advance, lyrics and the church bulletin is accessible at firstbaptistchurchgeorgetown.com/drive-in.html. This church service will also be live-streamed to the church Facebook page and You Tube channel.

In Seaford, the parking lot and grounds of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4961 on Middleford Road is the outdoor stage Monday, May 25 for a drive-in ceremony. The 11 a.m. event at the VFW is sponsored by Seaford Veterans Committee, comprised of VFW Post 4961, American Legion Posts 6 and 37, AMVETS Post 1694, Marine Corps League Detachment 780 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9.

Attendees should park approximately 10 feet from the next vehicle and remain in their vehicles for the ceremony but should also bring a face covering if there is a need to exit their vehicle.

The Seaford Veterans Committee notes this format will comply with current state guidelines governing large gatherings and also protect veteran attendees, many of whom are World War II, Korea, Vietnam and some Desert Storm veterans ranging from 65 to 95 years of age, some having underlying health issues.

This ceremony is shortened from the regular Memorial Day service as many participants such as the school band and Navy JROTC cadets are unavailable. The memorial brick dedication is postponed until Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

If the Seaford ceremony is canceled due to inclement weather, Seaford Veterans Committee members will go to the Veterans Memorial in Kiwanis Park on Stein Highway, read the names of the Seaford veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, play “Taps” and raise the flags to full staff.

National Call to Action

Under the National Call to Action, at dusk on Memorial Day, red, white and blue candles of remembrance are to be lit and placed on front porches or in the yard.

“As we continue to follow stay-at-home guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, we must not fail to remember the men and women who fought for our freedoms,” said James “Bill” Oxford, American Legion national commander. “Memorial Day observances around the country and beyond are certain to be much different this year, but we can show our respects by lighting and displaying candles to remind everyone why we must never forget the meaning of this sacred holiday.”

The national American Legion commander also suggests that families make signs expressing their gratitude for military sacrifice, photograph friends and family holding up the signs and sharing the images on social media. “We can remind everyone by showing our candles and sharing our messages that no matter the circumstances, we will never forget those who are no longer among us,” Commander Oxford said.

The different colored candles symbolize particular remembrances.

“You can light a red candle to remember those who shed their blood in combat and made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. A white candle can remind us all of the POWs and MIAs who are not yet home from wartime service. A blue candle can symbolize our eternal love of those who did come home but have since left us,” said Commander Oxford. “Any way you choose, light a candle of remembrance, or three, for the fallen to let the world know that Memorial Day matters deeply to The American Legion, even if ceremonies and public observances are significantly changed this year.”

Stories and images from such Memorial Day observances can be posted on www.legiontown.org as well as social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, tagging The American Legion National Headquarters.

Participants are asked to use the hashtag #candlesofhonor so images and messages can be aggregated in social media.

World War I vet remembered

As a prelude to Memorial Day, members of VFW Post No. 3238 in Camden gathered Saturday, May 16 to pay tribute to U.S. Army Pvt. Clarence Vinson of Lebanon, who was killed in France days before the end of World War I.

The ceremony was held at a bridge on South State Street named in Pvt. Vinson’s honor several years after his passing and included a floral tribute and a soldier’s silhouette. The group also cleaned the marble tablet celebrating Pvt. Vinson’s life and sacrifice.

Members of Camden’s VFW Post No. 3238 paid tribute Saturday to Pvt. Clarence Vinson of Lebanon, who died in World War I. From left are Post Surgeon John Wilkerson, VFW Department Commander Marc Garduno, and incoming Post Commander Larry Josefowski. (Submitted photo/Jeff Brown)

“We had to cancel our normal Memorial Day services for the community, but we still wanted to remember and memorialize those who have sacrificed for our country,” Post 3238 Commander Larry Josefowski said.

In his remarks, Mr. Josefowski recalled Benjamin Franklin’s words that true greatness resides not in war but in achieving peace.

“It is in the spirit of that challenge that we offer this prayer, Almighty God, we stand here today to pay tribute to brave men and women who gave their all in service to our country,” Mr. Josefowski said. “Accept our thanksgiving for their sacrifice and that of their families, which have purchased for us a free land. Cause us never to take for granted their devotion to liberty.”

Post members in attendance included VFW Department Commander Marc Garduno, incoming Post Commander Larry Josefowski, Suzi Wilkerson of the Post Ladies Auxiliary and Post Surgeon John Wilkerson.

The bridge ceremony was the first of two Memorial Day observances planned by Post 3238, Mr. Josefowski said.

The second is an annual grave marking event held at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Camden. Post and Auxiliary members on Saturday, May 23 again will place American flags on the graves of veterans interred there.

The event will take place from 10 a.m. until noon, Mr. Josefowski said. Members of the public are encouraged to come out and help and will be asked to wear protective masks and practice social distancing.

The flags will remain until Saturday, May 30.

The effort will conclude a short remembrance ceremony at Pvt. Vinson’s grave, he added.

“We want to mark the day and provide people with a visual reminder that freedom isn’t free,” Mr. Josefowski said.

Poppy Day awareness

The American Legion designated the Friday before Memorial Day as National Poppy Day, encouraging all Americans to wear a red poppy to honor the fallen — and support the living — heroes who have worn our nation’s uniform.

The poppy, which bloomed on the battlefields of France after World War I, has grown to become an internationally known and recognized symbol of the lives sacrificed in war, with the hope that none died in vain.

For many years, the American Legion Auxiliary has distributed poppies with a request that the person receiving the flower make a donation to support local veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families with medical and financial needs.

Due to COVID-19 this year, the tribute and remembrance must be done differently. When Auxiliary Unit 17 can once again distribute poppies and ask for support for our veterans’ programs, it will.

In the meantime, the Delmarva community is being asked to educate themselves and its youth by learning the history of the red poppy, reading or watching a video of the poem “In Flanders Field,” and sharing on all social media platforms.

For little or no cost, poppies can be home-made in many different forms and from a variety of household items.

The Post 17 family asks citizens on May 22 to take a moment of pause and say, “We Will Never Forget” by proudly displaying red poppies in as many ways as possible: in front yards and porches, or on cars, pinned to your clothing and even on face masks.

Remembrance amid cancellation

Among events canceled due to COVID-19 was the Sussex County Memorial Day Ceremony, traditionally a largely attended ceremony on The Circle in Georgetown. It was to be held Sunday, May 24.

“It is with frustration and regret that I must announce we are barred from holding the annual Sussex County Memorial Service this year,” said G. Holland vanValkenburgh, Sussex County Memorial Day spokesman. “Please express your thanks for their sacrifices in your own private way. Memorials, whether of stone or by a public service or private remembrance serve to value their passing and to rekindle the beacon that tells us the cost freedom is not free. Our generations dare not mourn without that context. As General Eisenhower said, no one wants peace more than the patriot; and there is no greater patriot than the soldier. Stay safe. Join us on The Circle in 2021.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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