Memorial Day 2021 in Watertown had more of a normal feeling than last year, with veterans able to gather in person and pay tribute to those who gave their lives serving their country.
While the parade was cancelled for the second straight year due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Town’s Memorial Day Observance took place under a tent next to the Commander’s Mansion.
“I think the community and everyone else has learned a crash course in what veterans call improvise, adapt and overcome,” said Watertown Veterans Services Officer Patrick George.
Last year, members of the Shutt Detachment of the Marine Corps League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and AmVets organized the place flags on graves of veterans and place wreaths at memorials around Watertown despite the COVID-19 restrictions. They also took part in a video tribute, rather than having the annual gathering George said.
This year, they could gather in person, not only at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony but for the first annual Poppy Picnic, held Friday at the Commander’s Mansion. George said planning has already started for next year’s parade.
George said that Vietnam veterans face increased risk from COVID-19, due to their exposure to Agent Orange (the herbicide used to clear vegetation in Southeast Asia which has led to health problems in those exposed). He noted the comorbidities for the Coronavirus almost mirror those for Agent Orange, including respiratory issues, diabetes and heart-related issues.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said he was glad to be able to attend an in-person event for Memorial Day, this year.
“It’s an honor for me to be here and I really missed being here last year, because this is my only opportunity to thank the veterans with us, and to pay tribute to the veterans who have gone before us,” Sideris said. “They gave the ultimate sacrifice for us to have our freedoms.”
Representative’s from Watertown’s veterans groups read the names of the members who passed away over the past year. Derek Mayerhofer, Commander of the VFW Post 1105, said that while he hopes people enjoy their barbecues and gatherings on Memorial Day, it is important to remember what the holiday is about.
“For me it’s about celebrating and perpetuating the history and memories of those who cannot be here today. Even though they may not be here, their stories and memories live on: the good ones, bad ones, crazy, sad, and sometimes outright unbelievable. They shape us into who we are and who we become,” Mayerhofer said. “If you ask my children what Memorial Day means, their answer is: it is a day to remember all those veterans that went to heaven.”