Memorial Day during pandemic brings live streamed ceremonies, reverse parades and vehicle-only parades

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Memorial Day in Peterborough in 2017. Photo/Meghan Pierce

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Memorial Day parades and observances were canceled across New Hampshire this year out of the fear the coronavirus would spread at the gatherings. Some communities, however, are forging ahead with socially distanced ceremonies or vehicle-only parades as well as live-streamed speeches and videos.

The New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen is one of the many to have canceled its annual observance this year and has instead made a video.

Cemetery director Shawn Buck said it was the prudent thing to do since the event is usually attended by a larger number of seniors including residents of the New Hampshire Veterans Home. “It’s quite a big deal and we honor them (the veterans) obviously for both Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” Buck said. “Obviously there would be a lot of people at risk here.”

Normally the cemetery holds its observance on May 30. Instead, this year, the cemetery held a private observance, which was filmed. Various versions of the video are planned to run on different social media platforms starting this weekend, Buck said.

 “We did a little ceremony with speeches and played Taps,” Buck said.

There is a longer and a shorter version depending on the social media platform, he said.

“We’re still trying to do what we can to honor the veterans using technology. And every year we allow potted plants to be placed at the graves for Memorial Day,” he said, from May 20 to May 31.

As of Thursday all of the graves had flags that were placed there by staff members and not volunteers as has been the custom in the past, he said.

The cemetery is open seven days a week, and seems to be busier than ever, he said.

“It’s a nice place to unwind and visit and a way to pay tribute for people’s families, which is nice,” Buck said. “It’s been busier than ever, frankly. There is just a lot of cars coming in and people visiting. It seems more than usual.”

Cemetery staff will be on hand Memorial Day weekend, May 23 through 25, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, according to the cemetery website, to assist guests and answer questions. 

The town of Hampstead has also pre-recorded an observance for its community, state representative Mark Pearson said, who is usually a speaker at Hampstead’s Memorial Day service, which was canceled. Instead, Hampstead has compiled a video, which Pearson will be included in. The video will run on Hampstead cable access TV Monday morning and then throughout the day, he said.

Pearson also typically speaks at the Kingston Memorial Day observance and is the honorary chaplain of the Kingston Veterans Club, he said. Last summer the community of Kingston celebrated its 325th anniversary with a big parade, he said, which is partly why the Kingston Veterans Club was confident it could hold its annual parade this year.

“We really did get into parades last summer, so we decided we are going to have a huge parade. Now everybody’s got to do it right if people are in cars they have to wear masks,” and will have banners draped over the side of the vehicles, he said “This parade is going to snake all over Kingston. It’s going to be long.”

This year the parade is planned to start at 1 p.m. Monday, May 25, downtown at the Town Hall, then head across the street to Kingston Pizza, left on West Main street, right on Rockrimmon Road, left onto Ball Road all the way to Danville Road. Left onto Danville Road, left to Main Street, then follow West Main street past Carriage town plaza to Church Street, left onto North Road, ending at the Greenwood Cemetery.

“We’re encouraging people to come out and watch the parade, but the parade is so long you don’t have to cluster in one spot, just make sure you stand distanced from each other,” he said. “Then we’re going to wind up at the cemetery on North Road where we are every year on Memorial Day.”

The parade vehicles will park, but only the few running the observance will leave their cars, he said.

“I’m going to do the main address and there are going to be three others that are going to speak, but we are going to do social distancing from each other and wear the masks. And we’re going to do the usual 21 gun salute … but instead of being clustered together, they are going to be at least 6 feet apart,” Pearson said. “We’re going to have good loudspeakers and tell people to ‘stay in your cars, please.’”

In the town of Jaffrey, a “reverse parade” is planned to take place on Monday, May 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in which residents are encouraged to decorate their yards or houses with posters, a float or other types of displays. This is coupled with the American Legion and VFW in town holding private ceremonies in town cemeteries.

Some communities, like Stratham, are holding private observances that will be streamed on Facebook Live.  The Stratham live stream is planned to start Monday, May 25, at 1:25 p.m. on the Town of Stratham Facebook page (@townofstrathamnh).

Cathedral of the Pines, a memorial to the nation’s war dead in Rindge, is also live streaming its observance on its Facebook, which is planned to take place on Saturday, May 30, at 4 p.m., Executive Director Patricia J. Vargas said.

“We are very, very grateful and appreciative of people loving Memorial Day, but we would just hate to jeopardize anybody’s health,” Vargas said. “Memorial Day is very special to us; it reminds us of our creation” she added, making reference to the parents of Sandy Sloane who created the memorial following their son’s death in World War II.

Vargas said while the Memorial Day observance and Cathedral of the Pines buildings are closed to the public right now, the outdoor cathedral’s grounds and hiking trails are open. The cathedral does ask people to follow the CDC’s current guidelines, which are to wear masks and social distance from other visitors.

 “The beauty of our grounds is very wide open … so it’s pretty safe,” she said. “However, we are encouraging everyone to wear the mask.”

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About this Author

Meghan Pierce

Meghan Pierce is founder and editor of Monadnock Beat.