With social distancing still a vital part of Minnesota’s defense against COVID-19, regular Memorial Day services throughout the region have been drastically scaled back.
In Owatonna, this means the cancelation of the Memorial Day parade and accompanying program at the Four Seasons Centre. Determined to show proper respect and recognition, however, the local VFW Auxiliary — in cooperation with the Owatonna American Legion — will still pulled together a smaller service to be held in the VFW parking lot.
“We were trying to plan on getting the community more involved by decorating their yards or houses patriotically, and we wanted to do something in Central Park with budding poppies, but we couldn’t quite get that together this year,” said Sarah Escamilla, auxiliary president. “That will all be on the back burner for next year when we have more time, but it is really important for us that we still recognize and educate others on Memorial Day and what it’s all about.”
The VFW Color Guard will raise the American flag in front of the VFW at 9 a.m. Monday and perform the traditional rifle salute. Escamilla said that the public is welcome to attend, though attendees are asked to either remain in their vehicles or practice safe social distancing throughout the parking lot.
“Memorial Day isn’t just about barbecues and camping and partying, and I know in Minnesota it’s hard to remember that because it’s really our first weekend of summer, but it’s more than that,” Escamilla said. “The VFW and the Legion feel it’s our duty to educate others and recognize this day.”
Escamilla said that KRFO will host a short Memorial Day program Monday as well, where they will read the names of area veterans who have died in the last year — also known as the “last roll call.” The laying of the flags on veterans graves will still be performed by volunteers who feel comfortable doing so throughout the weekend, with the large flags at the Owatonna Memorial Gardens being placed on Friday.
Though this Memorial Day will look quite different from past years, Brandon Noble with the Owatonna American Legion agreed with Escamilla that not recognizing the day wasn’t a real option.
“We’re at one of those key points in time where everyone will look back and remember,” said Noble, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2005 to 2010. “The pages of future history books are being written before our eyes, and it’s important not to forget that there were many chapters before what’s going on in the world now.”
“People are full of worry about what the current of future portions of the book are going to entail, but there were brave men and women who couldn’t foresee any of these issues we are facing,” he continued. “They didn’t care about what was in front of them, all they cared about was what — and more importantly who — they had left behind them and what they were fighting for. That type of selflessness for your fellow humans is something we should never let fear and uncertainty overshadow.”
For families at home who are looking for ways to honor veterans this Memorial Day, Escamilla suggests visiting a cemetery and taking a moment to take in the flags that represent those who have served. She also recommends looking back in your family tree and finding those who have served in the military.
The Blooming Prairie VFW Color Guard will also be raising the flag and doing a small prayer and traditional rifle salute at 11 a.m. Monday.