If necessity is, indeed, the mother of all invention, and desperate times require desperate measures, then add this new adage to the mix:
COVID-19 demands innovation and imagination to maintain our traditions.
Indeed, Zoom feeds replace crowded graduation ceremonies. Well-wishers now drive by to offer socially distanced birthday greetings to the recipient out on his or her front porch.
Likewise, it required new ways to remember the fallen who died defending this nation, due to the cancellation of traditional Memorial Day parades and other large gatherings across the country. Memorial Day is a poignant and deeply meaningful day to many veterans; some lost friends in battle, others fought with the knowledge that they too could become a casualty.
Additionally, residents in CalVet’s eight Veterans Homes of California have been restricted to visiting family members only by video and phone chats over the past three months. They maintain social distancing within the homes, foregoing the usual camaraderie of daily meals in the dining halls and other events off campus.
Here are some of the creative ways staff members helped residents observe the day:
The weekend ceremonies launched early when on Thursday the veterans in all of the homes watched a concert specifically in their honor by the Navy Band Northwest, via video feed.
Members of the True Memories Antelope Valley Car Club paraded in front of the Lancaster Home earlier in the week. The veterans sat outside and watched them go by before the club went on to Joshua Memorial Park to lay a wreath in the veterans’ section of the cemetery. The wreath-laying ceremony is one of the events the Home’s veterans normally would have attended.
The Ventura Home staff created a virtual tribute to the 93 veterans who have lived and died at the Home over the years. The tribute was shown on monitors situated throughout the facility. Instead of reading the governor’s Memorial Day proclamation to an assembly, Home administrator and Army veteran Julian Bond visited the residents throughout the facility to read the proclamation. Finally, the veterans saw a motorcycle parade involving several local clubs pass by the campus.
At the Barstow Home, veterans enjoyed a midday barbecue, and then observed a moment of silence throughout the Home at 3 p.m.
In the Fresno Home, two centenarian veterans celebrated birthdays five days apart – one celebrating his 100th birthday and the other his 104th milestone, while all residents honored fallen comrades or POWs through the “Missing Man Honors Table. The National League of POW/MIA Families describes the table poignantly: “Set for six, the empty chairs represent Americans who were or are missing from each of the services – Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard – and civilians, all with us in spirit.”
Redding Home administrator and uniformed Air Force veteran, Steve Cope read the proclamation in each of the Home’s five “neighborhoods.” Before each reading, staff member Nedalyn (Lynn) Bennett sang the national anthem.
At the Chula Vista Home, members of the local Garden Club sent chocolate bars as desserts for the special barbecue that the veterans enjoyed in their rooms or six feet apart.
At the Yountville Home, staff members sang patriotic songs that aired over KVET, the Home’s veterans/residents-operated closed-circuit TV station. Yountville administrator Lisa Peake received wreaths from the local community at the entrance of the Home.
The Wounded Warriors organization provided ice cream to the veterans in the West LA Home, they watched a parade of more than a dozen custom cars, and enjoyed a patriotic presentation via Zoom.
It might not have been the same as in previous years, obviously. Memorial Day in the time of COVID-19 took some alternative thinking, and CalVet staff came through.