By Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio
May 25, 2020- Memorial Day 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly be like no other in my lifetime. The first Memorial Day I remember was when I marched (in the loosest meaning of that term!) as a young Boy Scout in our rural Upstate New York town’s annual parade. A few years later, I marched in the same parade (with just slightly more precision) in our high school’s small marching band. When I joined the Coast Guard, my marching definitely improved and the parades got bigger until I was honored to be marching in front of the largest Memorial Day parade in our nation, held in Chicago. When I retired, I had the pleasure of taking in a true slice of Americana with my family as we watched our small town parade in Bay Village, Ohio. Truly, Norman Rockwell could have used those scenes for any number of his iconic patriotic paintings!
Now that I’m part of the American Red Cross, I’ve had the privilege of sharing our humanitarian organization’s story at local Memorial Day events. In Pepper Pike, I explained how the Red Cross’ treasured history finds its roots on the battlefields of the Civil War when its founder, Clara Barton, rendered aid and comfort to wounded soldiers. That tragic war between the states was also the genesis of Memorial Day, which was originally known as Decoration Day.
And that brings us to 2020 when our nation, and the world, battle the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Parades and special events have been cancelled all over our country due to social-distancing requirements and concerns about large gatherings impacting the spread of the often-fatal coronavirus. Yes, our commemoration of this important holiday we celebrate on the last Monday in May will definitely change this year. But what won’t change is the enormous debt we owe those men and women who sacrificed everything so we could enjoy the freedoms that we still enjoy today, despite COVID-19. As is often said, “All gave some, some gave all!”
I will still proudly display “Old Glory” on Memorial Day. I hope you will as well. Memorial Day is one of 22 days during the year we should display the American flag. That said, Memorial Day is the only day when the flag is flown at half-staff for the first half of the day, and then raised to full height from noon to sundown. This unique custom honors the deceased for the morning and living veterans for the rest of the day.
Although our weekend gatherings with families and friends may be curtailed this year, I do hope we will all take time to reflect on those who have gone before us and not take for granted our precious freedoms. I’m reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, “…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…” Yes, “how” we commemorate this Memorial Day will change, but the “why” we commemorate this Memorial Day remains unchanged—to honor and pay fitting tribute to those men and women who gave their lives in service to this great country. I’m proud to be an American representing a grateful nation that honors those fallen service members on this unique Memorial Day. I hope you’ll join me. God bless America!