COVID-19 scales back Memorial Day programs county-wide

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Memorial Day events are being scaled back or called off in Dickinson County to keep the potential spread of COVID-19 to a minimum. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is still recommending gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people, and American Legions from the local level on up to the national level have amended plans in response to the global pandemic. The American Legion's state convention voted May 2 to cancel its July 10 convention, and the American Legion's national convention in late August was called off in early April.

Spirit Lake American Legion Commander Denny Perry held up his Army veteran shirt which read, "Still serving America" during the Spirit Lake Memorial Day Program last year.
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Locally, it was announced last week the traditional Spirit Lake Memorial Day ceremony, parade and "Avenue of Flags" will not be held this year. Dozens of volunteers show up each year to help members of the Spirit Lake VFW and American Legion #23 plant row upon row of American flags on the Dickinson County Courthouse lawn. Organizers said, while a minimal number of volunteers could potentially install the flags, removing the flags and properly storing them afterwards takes more time and effort — without enough manpower, the task was prohibitive.

The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors supported the veterans' decision a few days after it was announced, voting unanimously to cancel this year's Memorial Day ceremony and flag display on the courthouse lawn — specifically mentioning the decision came at the recommendation of the organizers themselves.

"I really don't like to take that action, but I believe it's the right thing to do," Board Chairman Bill Leupold said.

Leupold said the veteran groups could potentially hold a belated Memorial Day ceremony come Veterans Day, if the November weather is agreeable.

Milford American Legion Post 384 firing squad completed their annual 21-gun salute as rain gently fell on them during last year's Memorial Day commemoration services in Florence Park.
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The Milford American Legion #384 has also chosen to cancel all of their Memorial Day events as well — no programs, no flag displays. Commander Kirb Walters noted a number of the Milford post's members are at an increased risk of complications from the virus or have family at risk, so the group decided to err on the side of caution.

American Legion posts in Lake Park and Terril have decided not to altogether cancel their planned events, but things will be trimmed quite a bit.

"We're going to put the flags out at (Fairview) Cemetery," Dennis Jackson, officer with the Terril American Legion, said. "We will have our flags out, but no official ceremony of any kind."

The ceremony took place in the Terril Memorial Building/Library last year, and a lunch followed the program.

Rev. Dr. Tim Harmon of First Presbyterian Church in Lake Park provided the Memorial Day ceremony's keynote address last year and offered the invocation and benediction.
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There won't be any public ceremony in Lake Park, and there aren't any planned flag displays, but James Kessler, member of American Legion Post #371 and District Commander for the American Legion of Iowa, said the Lake Park post will still conduct brief honors in Silver Lake Cemetery sans audience.

"We're just doing a private firing salute at the cemetery," Kessler said. "We're not inviting anybody, and we're not doing anything else. We're just going to fire three rounds and play taps at the cemetery…We say we never forgot, and we're honoring them."

In addition, Kessler said the National American Legion is urging the public to honor the country's fallen by displaying lit candles on their front porches, written signs and even social media posts or online at American Legion National Commander James W. Oxford said the candles may be lit at dusk on May 25, and various remembrances can be indicated by the color of each candle — red for those who died in the line of duty, white for prisoners of war or those missing in action and blue for veterans who still live among us.

"Any way you choose, light a candle of remembrance, or three, for the fallen to let the world know that Memorial Day matters deeply to the American Legion, even if ceremonies and public observances are significantly changed this year," Oxford said in a statement, Monday.

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