Hills Ferry Cemetery will be quiet Monday, the solemn Memorial Day remembrance of a nation’s fallen heroes silenced by the coronavirus pandemic.
The peaceful rural cemetery is the final resting place of more than 800 veterans, where for nearly a century veteran groups, community members and loved ones have gathered on the last Monday of May to pay their respects.
This year, there will be no formal gathering or observance.
Leaders of local veteran organizations, however, emphasize that the national holiday remains as deeply meaningful as ever and encourage others to take a moment of reflection or prayer in remembrance of those who laid down their lives in defense of freedom.
By strictest definition, Memorial Day is dedicated to remembrance of a nation’s war dead.
But the day is also an opportunity to remember and honor all deceased veterans and to pay tribute and show support for the men and women currently serving in the armed forces.
“We’re all disappointed (at not being able to hold a Memorial Day program), said Kris Walton, commander of American Legion, Manuel M. Lopes Post 240. “Even though we can’t be all out together, I would hope that people put out their flags, and take a moment to reflect on what Memorial Day is really all about. This is a time to really appreciate and understand.”
The restrictions under which Californians and many fellow Americans are living due to the pandemic only underscore the value and importance of freedoms which the nation more typically enjoys - and for which brave men and women have laid down their lives to defend, Walton reflected.
“Right now would be a great time to think about the freedoms that we do not have right now due to the pandemic, and to hope that we get back to the freedoms that we have because of those who defended their country,” he commented.
Don Matoza, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Joseph G. Lopes Post 7635, said he too is saddened that Memorial Day programs will not occur this year.
Matoza said he regularly participates in the group which places flags and crosses on graves for Memorial Day weekend. There will be no group placement of flags this year.
“It chokes me up to see 900-some flags and crosses put out just at Hills Ferry Cemetery,” he reflected. “It makes me proud to be a veteran.”
Matoza, too, expressed hope that residents will pay tribute on Memorial Day.
“I just hope that everybody remembers, and takes a minute to bow their heads,”
San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery near Santa Nella has also canceled its annual ceremony, which traditionally has been held on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend.
Cemetery staff will hold a small observance that is not open to the public. It will be photographed and posted on the National Cemetery Administration’s website and social media outlets, according to a news release.
Hills Ferry Cemetery and San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery are both open for visitation on Memorial Day weekend. Cemetery visitors are asked to adhere to public health and safety guidelines, which include maintaining social distancing, limiting the size of gatherings and other measures as appropriate.
Visitors to the national cemetery are asked to know the grave location of individuals they wish to visit in advance of their arrival. Cemetery staff, in order to limit contact with visitors, will not be able to provide assistance and the grave site locator kiosk will not be operational. The National Cemetery Administration does have a mobile grave locator available for those with mobile devices. The cemetery will post a quick response code on the kiosk to help link visitors to the site.
Families may place flowers and small American flags on their veteran’s grave site in both cemeteries.
The national cemetery is open from sunrise to sunset over Memorial Day weekend. Visitors are asked to attend Friday, Saturday or Sunday to avoid possible crowds on Memorial Day.
Hills Ferry Cemetery is open from approximately 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.