Memorial Day in Lewis County usually means several ceremonies at cemeteries throughout the county, including Centralia American Legion Post 17’s annual ceremony at Claquato Cemetery, but this year, in light of the restrictions placed on gatherings, ceremonies will be much smaller or will happen online.
The Veterans Memorial Museum located in Chehalis usually hosts a ceremony at the Claquato Cemetery but it has been canceled this year due to COVID-19. The museum will instead be holding a “Tree of Life” ceremony on its Facebook page in honor of Memorial Day.
American Legion Post 101 in south Lewis County will still be conducting ceremonies with a rifle salute and wreath-laying at several locations in Winlock, Toledo, Vader and Napavine but the number of people involved has been reduced and the times in which the ceremonies will occur will not be publicized for the safety of the older veterans.
“We’ll still be holding ceremonies to honor our military fallen but we are not going to do anything that is going to put anyone in physical jeopardy. Most of our folks are elderly and not in the best health. For some, this will be the first time they’re venturing out of their house since COVID-19. But this is so important to us and our community that we make sure that all of our veterans are honored,” said Wendy Carolan, of American Legion Post 101 in Winlock.
Carolan said that this is the first year they are not encouraging crowds but they are still honoring the fallen at the following cemeteries: Napavine Cemetery, Saint Urban Cemetery, Vader Catholic Cemetery, Little Falls Cemetery, Winlock Cemetery, Saint Francis Cemetery, Saint Francis Cemetery, Lone Hill Cemetery, and Toledo Cemetery as well as at the Wall of Honor in Toledo. Carolan said that people can come by the cemeteries but they are encouraged to maintain proper social distancing if they are there at the same time as some of the older veterans.
“We don’t honor only those who have fallen during service but those who were willing to serve that have passed on. To us, it’s another salute from veteran to veteran and a reminder to folks that these people were willing to make the sacrifice so that we could live the lives that we live with the freedoms that we enjoy,” said Carolan.
John Panesko and his wife, Marie, spent Thursday morning placing American flags on the graves of veterans in Pioneer Cemetery in Chehalis, which the couple owns.
“Given the current mood of canceling events, it didn’t seem appropriate to put together any kind of ceremony, but we are going to put a flag on each military grave. It’s for the people that are buried there,” said Panesko.
American Legion Posts in Lewis County and throughout the country are encouraging the public to honor veterans in the community by lighting a candle and placing it in the window of homes.
The placement and type of candle is up to the individual; however, the American Legion is recommending putting the candles on the front porch for visibility.
The American Legion provided a guide for color options and what each color symbolizes. A red candle is a reminder to and honor the blood shed in battle in order to protect freedom. A white candle is a reminder to keep our POWs and MIAs in our thoughts and prayers. A blue candle symbolizes a salute to those who made it home but are no longer alive.
The American Legion encourages people to take photos of their candles and share them on social media with the hashtag #CandlesOfHonor.
“Memorial Day, for most of us, will be different this year. The meaning, however, does not change,” Bill Oxford, national commander of the American Legion, stated in an email. “We must adapt and overcome the pandemic in order to pay our respects to the true meaning of Memorial Day.”
There is a virtual Memorial Day website where individuals can share stories about someone who served in the Armed Forces and read the stories of others who are honoring their loved ones who served our country. Stories of who individuals are honoring on Memorial Day can also be shared on social media using the hashtag #VirtualMemorialDay. Stories can be read and shared at http://legion.org/legiontown.
“No matter how we remember this year, the most important message we need to send is that we will never forget,” Oxford said.