Traditionally in local communities, Memorial Day is remembered with a parade, a ceremony, a breakfast or program, sponsored by members of the local American Legion Post, VFW Post, Color Guard and/or Honor Guard.
With the unprecedented circumstances due to the pandemic, commanders, presidents and members were forced to think of a unique way to honor fallen soldiers without encouraging large groups of people to gather together — forcing a break in tradition.
While Kenyon and Wanamingo have taken slightly different approaches to ensure the sacrifices of America’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, both share a goal of not letting the day go by unnoticed.
At 9 a.m. in Wanamingo, some members will assemble at the POW/MIA Memorial located in the center of the Wanamingo Veterans Day Memorial, for a short program consisting of placing roses on the memorial, followed by a rifle salute, the playing of taps, and lowering and raising the colors to full staff.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states the firing of guns is seen as a great honor bestowed upon both military and political officials, a practice well established in the 16th century.
Following the program at the Wanamingo Veterans Memorial, another short program will take place at Riverside Park at 9:30 a.m. Some members of Wanamingo Boy Scout Troop 76 will lead in the Pledge of Allegiance followed by an honor roll of the fallen. A rose will be dropped in the river to remember those lost at sea. A rifle salute and taps will conclude the program.
Wanamingo VFW Quamme Post #186 Commander Gary Floan says everyone is encouraged to practice social distancing protocols during both programs. Although they are keeping it simple this year, he says they wanted to do something.
“We can’t let it go by without any activity,” said Floan.
Typically the Wanamingo Boy Scout Troop 76 serves a pancake breakfast at the Community Center in the morning, which is followed by a short ceremony and the parade, which they opted against due to COVID-19.
A Memorial Day parade will process around the neighborhoods of Kenyon beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Kenyon Veterans Color Guard President Mike (Mac) McDonald says they a possible route may gather at the Kenyon-Wanamingo High School parking lot, head west on Sixth Street and work their way through the streets of Kenyon, with the exception construction zones. While the route will be finalized at the May 21 meeting, McDonald says they plan to go down as many streets as possible.
“I know Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, but I think people need something to lift their spirits,” said McDonald. “If you want to partake in the parade, you can either drive your car and stay in your car, or even in a golf cart if it’s a nice day.”
The parade will be led by the Kenyon Police Department, followed by four Kenyon Veterans Color Guard members on a 14-foot trailer, which will wind up at Kenyon Veterans Park, where a 21-gun salute and playing of taps will take place.
Kenyon’s Memorial Day parade was approved by the City Council at the May 12 meeting.
Participants are urged to main social distancing and relax in their own front yard to pay respect to those who gave all in the service of the country. Although there won’t be a program at the Kenyon Cemetery this year, flags will still be posted on the graves of veterans in and around Kenyon.
Among 10 local cemeteries, nearly 500 veterans, dating back to the Civil War, are buried. Eleven additional veterans, who would normally be honored during the program, have been laid to rest over the past year.
McDonald says those 11 veterans are Dwight Boomgaarden, Howard Ronken, Leo Erickson, Gordy Anderson, Doug Haggerty, David Musgjerd, Leif Gunhus, Don Gifford, Dave Becher, Jim Schoberg and Gary Wolkenhauer. To honor those veterans in an appropriate manner, McDonald says there has been a discussion of posting 11 flags at the Veterans Memorial Park with each veteran’s name on it.
Memorial Day plans for the local areas were gathered amongst the ideas of members and from other areas. Areas, such as Cannon Falls, have also made modifications to traditional Memorial Day plans.
Dwayne Hermanson, VFW Post 4452 Post Quarter Master for Cannon Falls in First District with Kenyon and Wanamingo, says in Cannon Falls all Memorial Day events have been canceled, including the Memorial Day breakfast. He says flags will be posted throughout the city streets within the week.
Hermanson says the National VFW Commander Chief is encouraging VFW posts to do something for Memorial Day, even if it’s a telebroadcast held on a local radio station or something of that nature.
“That’s what’s being encouraged, to do something, even though it’s not the full Memorial Day events like in the past, just to get something out there in the public,” said Hermanson of the recommendations. “…There’s not much else we can do under the current guidance out there.”
In larger areas, such as Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Hermanson says organizations are hosting a memorial service to be played over the TV and radio.
“It’s what we’re all tied to, it’s going to be pretty bleak this year for Memorial Day events.”