Memorial Day has long been a day to gather as a community to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the nation’s freedom.
Typically, Plymouth’s Memorial Day program has been at the Veterans Memorial at City Hall. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizers to make some changes.
“We did not want to cancel,” said Jennifer Rodgers, president of Plymouth Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, a nonprofit that supports military service members and their families before, during and after deployment. “We wanted to keep this tradition in some way, somehow, so this is the way.”
To still honor the day, the organization has teamed up with CCX Media and the City of Plymouth to produce a virtual program and televise it on what would’ve been the in-person event - 11 a.m. Friday, May 22, on CCX. The program will also be available online at ccxmedia.org and Facebook.
“It is our civilian duty to recognize this day and understand the meaning,” said Rodgers, the wife of a recently retired Minnesota National Guard member. Rodgers became president of PBYR in January after the retirement of its founding president Gary Goldetsky.
The program will be similar – though virtual – with a welcome by Plymouth Mayor Jeff Wosje, speakers, a musical presentation and the closing with taps.
The program will include honoring the fallen and keeping remembrance alive by retired U.S. Army Colonel Terry Branham, remembering the families by Rodgers, “America the Beautiful” sung by Armstrong High School senior Sara Shiff and the poem “In Flanders Fields” read by Wayzata High School senior Erin Anderson.
What will be missing is the color guard and the flag ceremony to adhere to the 6-foot social distancing guidelines and keep its members safe.
“It’s a tough year,” said Hamel VFW Commander Jim Heimerl, who is typically a part of the color guard. He along with five other members of the VFW are also part of the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad, which has suspended its duties as of March 18 due to the pandemic.
Since 1979, the squad has provided military funeral honors for those who served, regardless of the weather.
“There have been tornadoes, blizzards, you name it – they made it,” Heimerl said.
When that service stopped, the squad was “devastated,” he said, noting the service is the one honor veterans request at their funeral and it’s been difficult not to honor that request.
As a Marine Corp veteran who served in Vietnam in 1966-67, Heimerl takes Memorial Day seriously.
“When only half of you come home, it’s something you don’t forget,” he said. Memorial Day “is a day to remember.”
Heimerl also takes protecting his comrades seriously and understands the need to hold off on the flag and rifle services.
“We’re already planning for next year and we’re going to pick it right back up,” he said of the rifle squad.
In the meantime, he and his fellow VFW members will continue laying flags on gravestones at Long Lake Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day. He will also be providing taps and leading the Pledge of Allegiance as part of the Plymouth Memorial Day program.
Follow the Sun Sailor on Facebook at facebook.com/mnsunsailor.