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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

The VA Is Lifting Restrictions At Cemeteries, But Memorial Day May Not Be Back To Normal

Speaker 1: 00:00 Days before Memorial day, the department of veterans affairs is lifting restrictions at the cemeteries. It manages the pandemic limited. The number of people allowed at burials and ceremonies still at many veteran's cemeteries. This year is Memorial day. Commemorations will be scaled back. Chris Hexcel reports for the American Homefront project. Speaker 2: 00:23 Lynn Rolf Jr. Is a retired army Colonel who volunteers here at Leavenworth national cemetery in Kansas. We're about 40,000 veterans are buried Speaker 3: 00:32 All the way from Spanish American war, world war one, world war II, civil war. And my brother's buried out in section 58. See Sergeant Ralf Speaker 2: 00:44 That Sergeant John Rolfe, who served a tour of duty in Vietnam, Lynn rose spends weeks preparing for Memorial day. Typically hundreds of boy Scouts with place American flags. At every grade, there would be speeches and prayers and a bugler playing taps. That didn't happen last year. At first, Rolf heard everything was canceled, but that was not acceptable. Speaker 3: 01:06 We were able to work with our cemetery director and, uh, with all the precautions and all the social distancing and masks and everything else. We were able to have our formal ceremony. We weren't going to not do it. We weren't going to be told no you can't. Speaker 2: 01:23 They ended up with a small event that was closed to the public. Only a handful of veterans group representatives were there. Good Speaker 4: 01:30 Morning, ladies and gentlemen, at this time, if you please stand John Sullivan, one of our Scouts will offer the pledge of allegiance. Speaker 2: 01:39 Another small event is planned with the pandemic receding. The VA did lift restrictions on gatherings, but barely a week before Memorial day, too late for Rolf and others to plan a typical full-scale commemoration. Speaker 4: 01:51 I pledge allegiance to the flag. Speaker 2: 01:55 The VA also lifted another rule that had limited attendance of burial services to 10 family Speaker 3: 02:00 Members. It's been really hard on them because it's unfortunately, you know, a lot of the families, they don't have the brother and sister or aunts and uncles from Virginia or down in Oklahoma to be able to come back and participate in it. Speaker 2: 02:14 Stacy [inaudible] says the group aspect of events like Memorial day is important. Her father was killed in Vietnam nine weeks before she was born. Speaker 5: 02:23 I didn't get to ever so much as breathe the same air as my dad. So I tend to take anything honoring our fallen very much to heart Speaker 2: 02:39 For years. Her father's death was something nobody really talked about. Speaker 5: 02:44 Um, mostly because of my grandparents, couldn't accept that dad didn't come home. His body was not viewable, so they didn't have the closure. Speaker 2: 02:55 She likes to honor veterans throughout the year at events where hundreds of volunteers gathered to they read the gravestones. She says that sense of community has been missing. The official Memorial day ceremony at Leavenworth will be scaled back this year, but it will be open to the public. And the VA says those who are fully vaccinated, don't have to wear masks role. The retired Colonel encourages people to visit on Memorial day or any day for a quiet moment of reflection. Speaker 3: 03:26 And he's standing up on one of the far hill sides and look down over it. And you're just amazed at the beauty of the place, serene, solemn, but still beautiful. Speaker 2: 03:36 And for people who do visit Rolf says, they'll see a small sign that things are returning to normal. After missing last Memorial day, the boy Scouts were allowed back this year. And once again, visitors can expect to see 40,000 small American flags in front of each veteran's gravestone. I'm Chris [inaudible] and Leavenworth, Kansas. Speaker 1: 03:57 This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

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Days before Memorial Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs is easing restrictions at the cemeteries it manages.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments