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Honoring Veterans On Memorial Day With Social Distancing And Virtual Tributes

Small flags beside graves at Bay Pines National Cemetery
Jim Robinson
/
Flickr
Bay Pines National Cemetery and other VA cemeteries in Florida will be open for public visitation throughout Memorial Day weekend. Social distancing is required.

The coronavirus pandemic is putting a damper on the parades and military gatherings that would typically take place on Memorial Day. But groups in the Tampa Bay area are adapting.

Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg will host a virtual ceremony on Facebook Live Monday at 10 a.m. that includes guest speakers from the military community and Bay Pines VA. Ret. Col. Thomas G. Bowman, USMC will provide the keynote address.

"I consider Memorial Day the nation's holy day of remembrance of those Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice as well as those that suffered physical and mental disabilities,” said Paul Russo, director of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. “It needs to be observed, regardless of the current pandemic."

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Veterans and their families can't gather in large groups this year, but they can still visit the graves of fallen heroes at Bay Pines or one of the eight other cemeteries in Florida run by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.

Visitors are invited to stop by Bay Pines to lay wreaths or small flags on graves. Visitors will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon entering the VA campus and social distancing is required.

Russo is encouraging people to go during the weekend to avoid large crowds on Memorial Day.

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He said this Memorial Day has added significance, as 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of World War II ending.

“Seventy-five years ago these veterans turned back the tyranny of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and the message to those folks is you’re not forgotten,” Russo said. “Over 405,000 Americans died during World War II and many more were injured and it remains and honor and privilege for us to care for those who remain and the VA is here for them.”

Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell is also open for visitation with safety guidelines in place. The cemetery will host a virtual ceremony on Facebook as well on Monday at 11 a.m.

In Tampa, the American Legion Veterans Cemetery on West Kennedy Boulevard will open its gates to vehicle traffic on Monday. Guests are invited to drive through the cemetery and flash their lights or honk to honor veterans. A flag raising and taps ceremony will take place at noon but guests need to stay in their cars.