Regardless of the circumstances, when Memorial Day came around this year, members of Valley Stream American Legion Post 854 planned to honor America’s war dead “come hell or high water,” Commander Bill Rohe said.
But with restrictions on public gatherings to stem the spread of the coronavirus beginning to loosen, and with some help from the village, they didn’t have to go it alone.
About two dozen people of all ages, and roughly a dozen more in cars, gathered at Veterans Memorial, at the corner of the Village Green, on Monday for a solemn, albeit brief ceremony of remembrance for local military service members who left to fight, but didn’t come home alive.
“It’s the right thing to do for the deceased veterans who fought for us, who died for us,” Rohe said of continuing the annual ritual despite the pandemic. “It’s the right thing we have to do.”
Memorial Day is typically one of Valley Stream’s largest events of the year. Rivaling only Community Fest in size, the day of remembrance joins various local civic, veterans and school groups as well as government officials in a three-day slate of activities, with a parade that typically draws hundreds to Rockaway Avenue.
Although the fanfare was absent, Mayor Ed Fare said that such celebrations were not a true representation of the significance behind the holiday.
“The most important thing we have to remember is why we’re here,” Fare said. “We’re not here for a parade; we’re not here for a sale at the mall, or a barbecue . . . We’re here to remember, recognize and honor all those who gave their lives for you, for me and for this country.”
Although attendees were spaced yards apart and clad in masks, their presence alone was an important reminder, noted Kevin Hill, commander of Valley Stream Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1790.
“It’s always good to know that people don’t forget the fallen who served their country,” Hill said.
The names of the service members from Valley Stream who were killed in the line of duty were read aloud, and after the ceremony, some attendees, village officials and Fire Department volunteers visited the homes of Valley Stream veterans who were too elderly to attend safely.