Memorial Day in Iosco County traditionally means that, those looking to honor veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, can expect a number of opportunities to do so. However, due to COVID-19, there will be just one public event in the area this year. Local veterans organizations, though, are still dedicated to recognizing the men and women who gave their lives for their country, and will proceed with some scaled-down services with group members only in the coming days. Those from American Legion Post 422 in Hale are just one example, and the members pictured here at the venue, from left, are First Vice Commander Charles Carroll, Dana Odefey and Commander Douglas Walter.

EAST TAWAS – Memorial Day in Iosco County usually means that a number of formal services to honor the fallen can be expected – as well as parades, craft shows, community luncheons and other activities – typically spanning the course of several days.

Things will be different in 2020, though, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to restrictions on large gatherings, along with other setbacks.

Despite the cancellation of nearly all public Memorial Day events in the county, those who gave their lives for our freedom will still be honored on and before Monday, May 25, by the various Vvterans organizations in the area.

For example, members of the Hale Area Veterans Honor Guard will be placing flags in Esmond Evergreen Cemetery, beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 23.

The group consists of those from Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7435 and its auxiliary, American Legion Post 422 and its auxiliary and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 882 and associates. They have traditionally hosted formal Memorial Day ceremonies, as well, in both Whittemore and Hale.

Each of the communities have also held parades in past years, but VFW and VVA representative Terry Frank notes that no such activities will take place in Whittemore this time around.

With the pandemic and related restrictions being an ever-changing situation, Frank shared that a lot of things were up in the air until the last minute, with many events ultimately being cancelled.

For instance, last year in Whittemore, a weekend long affair was hosted in recognition of Memorial Day, which included crafts and movies at the Whittemore Library, a teen dance, a pancake breakfast, awards for parade participants, games, a cookout put on by the Burleigh-Reno-Whittemore Fire Department, a raffle and a rodeo.

Memorial Day 2019 in Hale featured a ceremony that was accompanied by music from the Hale Area Schools Band, a lunch at the VFW Post and a formal service at Esmond Evergreen Cemetery, complete with the National Anthem, a gun salute, the playing of “Taps” and a roll call of the names of each of the veterans who have been laid to rest at the site. The Hale Area Veterans continued the services at several other area cemeteries, as well.

For this year, though, American Legion Post 422 Commander Douglas Walter says the veterans group will conduct an abbreviated ceremony for the departed at Esmond Evergreen Cemetery. There will be no roll call, nor any activities for the public, but Veterans will be on hand for the event, beginning at 10 a.m. on Memorial Day.

A number of changes have been noted in the Tawas area also, and activities have been scaled back from 2019. Held the prior year were ceremonies at the American Legion Cemetery in East Tawas; Memory Gardens Cemetery in Tawas City; and the DNR State Dock in East Tawas, to recognize those lost at sea; all of which were led by the Tawas Area Veterans Honor Guard.

In addition to a parade in East Tawas, last year’s itinerary also included the annual Memorial Weekend Arts & Crafts Show at Tawas City Shoreline Park, sponsored by the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce, which showcased more than 150 booths. But, as recently reported, the chamber has called off what would have been the 28th show this year, in response to the pandemic.

VFW Post 5678 Commander Dennis Frank has advised that, unfortunately, there will be no organized ceremonies related to Memorial Day in the Tawas area for 2020.

While there will not be an official Memorial Roll Call Ceremony at Memory Gardens Cemetery, the VFW will be on site this year to place flags on the Veterans’ graves and post the military service flags on the poles which have been reinstalled.

Further, the Tawas Area Veterans Honor Guard typically conducts an annual service on May 30, at Tawas City Veteran’s Park. As Frank has explained, this is the original date of Memorial Day, and many veterans groups continue to recognize this through annual traditions. But this, too, will not be taking place in 2020.

Frank said the cancellations are mostly to comply with the governor’s executive orders related to the pandemic, but that the VFW’s state and district commanders have also noted that the groups shouldn’t be having public gatherings at this time.

In Oscoda, the men and women who gave their lives for their country have usually been recognized through such Memorial Day tributes as a joint service by American Legion Post 274 and Oscoda VFW Post 3735, and a flag raising ceremony at the Circle of Flags in Oscoda Veterans Memorial Park.

However, those in the community are among the many others who have been forced to take a different route this year.

One event that members of the public are invited to join in on, though, will take place at Pinecrest Cemetery.

Joseph Brinn says that local military veterans from  the American Legion and VFW are seeking volunteers to assist them with placing American Flags on every Veteran grave site in the cemetery.

Those wishing to help out are asked to meet at the cemetery at 9 a.m. this Friday, May 22. Brinn says that social distancing guidelines will be adhered to, and participants are asked to wear face masks.

“Approximately 500 American Flags will be individually placed in Bronze Metal Flag Holders on each veteran’s grave site,” he stated.

The flags will remain in place through Veteran’s Day in the fall. Further questions can be directed to Joe Duby at the American Legion, by calling 739-5121.

Due to the Coronavirus and Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, no gatherings will be held in Oscoda during Memorial Day weekend – including the annual service at the Legion, and the flag raising at the Circle of Flags.

In order to abide by stay-at-home orders, a flag raising video will be taken and posted on the American Legion and Oscoda Veteran’s Memorial Park Facebook page or a live feed of the event will be available at noon on Memorial Day. Nothing has been set in stone, so either option is a possibility. For questions about the flag raising, contact Brinn at 906-2155.