GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The coronavirus pandemic did not stop West Michigan from honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Faced with concerns over the spread of COVID-19, several communities canceled the traditional parades and other events. But like so many events recently, many of Monday’s Memorial Day remembrances were virtual.
Recognizing the need to still honor the sacrifices made, Zeeland posted their Memorial Day service on Facebook.
It was the same in Holland, where Memorial Day observances were posted to YouTube.
In the video, Holland Mayor Nathan Bocks talks about the sacrifices made in the effort to keep COVID-19 under control.
“But the burden we have been asked to bare pales in comparison to the sacrifices that we honor today,” Bocks said at the small gathering hosted by VFW Post 2144.
“This year, these events are smaller, fewer and some have been canceled. But that does not dim our enthusiasm, our responsibility, our duty to stop and to remember the meaning of this day,” Bocks continued.
In the Martin community, an Army surgeon came up with a way to honor the fallen after his hometown canceled the traditional ceremony.
As a U.S. Army Orthopedic surgeon, Lt. Col. Kevin Martin knows all too well the importance of the last Monday in May.
“Deploying three times. Seeing men and woman die and trying to save them. And then also dealing with their aftermath. I had a soldier last year, a Green Beret. He came in for a follow up on his ankle surgery. He came in. He had a prosthesis. The leg that I had operated on was gone,” Martin said.
Martin, a third generation Army veteran, grew up in the town. He graduate from the high school in 1998 and enlisted in the Army. He became a combat medic before the military put him through medical school.
Coming home and participating in his hometown’s Memorial Day services has become a tradition.
“I actually set my schedule around this parade. And this year I had leave and I came home to put the flag up,” Martin said.
So, when concerns over the coronavirus lead town leaders to cancel this year’s ceremony, Martin couldn’t just sit it out.
“We’re not protesting,” Martin told News 8. “We’re just supporting the somber event that we’re honoring our veterans today.”
Monday, he carried the flag alongside other veterans. Others from the town who have served rode behind Martin in a trailer.
“These are the pillars of the community — these men that will be riding on this wagon today. We’re going to have two to three Purple Hearts. We have a Silver Star riding today. There’s some serious heroes riding this wagon today,” Martin said.
There were no marching bands or official escorts.
Some local farmers brought up the rear of this year’s shortened parade.
“The parade has officially been canceled, so the crowd should be pretty low. People will assume their own risk and keep distance per the government’s orders,” Martin said.
Small groups of residents did gather along the parade route. By the time they reached the veterans memorial in the middle of the town, a crowd gathered, but it was nothing compared to the normal turn out.
It was not the event they wanted to hold, but the message was still delivered.
“The battle and the payment for our freedom is still being paid every day,” Martin said. “It may not be on the news every day, but our soldiers are still paying for that freedom.”