The annual Memorial Day tradition of honoring veterans by placing small American flags near their graves has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has banned public events from happening and banned boy scouts, girl scouts, and other groups from planting flags in cemeteries this year because of the COVID-19 outbreak that infected 1.4 million people across the country.
However, in some communities there was backlash and requests were made to restore the tradition.
On Long Island, New York, where more than 500,000 veterans are buried in two national military cemeteries, locals are asking the Department of Veteran Affairs to reconsider the ban.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs canceled all of this year’s public Memorial Day events due to the coronavirus pandemic, including the Boy Scout tradition of planting small American flags at veterans graves in military cemeteries. Last year’s Flag Placement Ceremony at Los Angeles National Cemetery, pictured above on May 25
“If we can’t think of a way to make sure we put flags by their graves to honor them, then something is seriously wrong,” said Steve Bellone, director of Suffolk County.
Suffolk County is home to the Calverton and Long Island National Cemeteries, the resting places of more veterans than any other military cemetery in the country, including Arlington National Cemetery.
Every year, Boy Scout Troop 442 of Middle Island, New York, places thousands of flags of national headstones on Calverton National Cemetery in honor of the veterans’ sacrifice.
“What we are asking the VA to do, instead of having a general policy across the country, is to allow the national cemeteries at the local level to make this decision together with the local health department,” Bellone told Fox news.
“We will take responsibility to say that this flag placement plan complies with state and national guidelines, but gives us the opportunity to do it so that we can honor our fallen heroes,” he added.
He said it would be disrespecting the legacy of the veterans.
Boy Scouts of the Long Beach troop prepare an American flag in honor of the fallen for Memorial Day at Los Angeles National Cemetery, California, May 25, 2019, next to the graves of war veterans at the annual Flag Placement Ceremony.
“We have just commemorated VE Day, this is the generation that has experienced the setback of the great depression, they won World War II. What will our generation say if we can’t think of honoring the greatest generation by hanging flags by their graves on Memorial Day? Bellone said.
Eagle Scout Kieran Monaghan, 18, has been flying flags at veteran cemeteries for the past five years and is confident his troops can do this again this year while taking security measures.
“It is definitely a very emotional, moving experience. Personally, my father is a veteran. It was deployed to Iraq for a year. It’s good to pay respect to our fallen heroes, it’s important to me, it’s important to the boy scouts, it’s important to the community, and it’s something I wouldn’t like to see going, ” he said.
“It’s understandable to some degree, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to put together a plan to still be able to do the same thing we’ve done year after year, still according to the social distance guidelines, where everyone masked, with gloves on. It is certainly doable, ”he added.
Boy Scout troops across the country, including California, Maryland, Missouri, and Wisconsin, have also canceled their flagging ceremonies in light of the outbreak.
The U.S. National Cemetery Administration, the federal agency within the VA that administers the sites, says that despite the outrage, the cemeteries will not host Memorial Day events.
The agency said that due to the ‘national emergency, VA’s national cemeteries will not host public Memorial Day events. ‘
The agency further added that Long Island has not met the state criteria for reopening and there are still limits to social gatherings.
Families and community members are welcome to visit national cemeteries during the Memorial Day weekend and place individual flags on graves to honor friends and family. We ask that all visitors adhere to the CDC, state and local health, safety, and travel guidelines, “said the US National Cemetery Administration.