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Memorial Day plans altered by pandemic

Daily Record File Photo Michael Trujillo, commander of American Legion Post 28, speaks at the 2019 Memorial Day ceremony at the General Douglas L. McBride Veterans Cemetery in South Park Cemetery in Roswell. The traditional event was not held this year due to public health orders issued in response to COVID-19 that limit public gatherings.

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The roar of motorcycles, sound of taps being played and the Boy Scouts leading a large crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance were noticeably absent Monday, as the American Legion was unable to hold its traditional Memorial Day Ceremony this year.

For decades, the day has been marked locally by a ceremony put on by the American Legion. Most years The Patriot Riders — a veterans motorcycle group — can be seen riding along the flag bedecked streets of the South Park Cemetery en route to the Gen. Douglas L. McBride Veteran’s Cemetery. The Veteran’s Cemetery is located inside the South Park Cemetery.

Local officials typically read aloud proclamations, patriotic songs are sung and a small roster of speakers reflect on both the importance of Memorial Day and of the enormity of the sacrifice members of the military made in both defense of and devotion to country, and wreaths are laid to represent all branches of the military.

However, state public health orders banning mass gatherings of five or more people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Legion to cancel this year’s ceremony.

“Most of the veterans are just taking it easy at home,” said Michael Trujillo, commander of American Legion Post 28, one of two posts in Roswell.

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Typically the Legion and hundreds of volunteers including the Boy Scouts and cadets with the New Mexico Youth ChalleNGe Academy spend the Saturday preceding Memorial Day converging on the South Park Cemetery and placing 3,000 flags.

Because of social distancing and restrictions on mass gathering though, volunteers still put out some flags but far fewer than they normally do.Trujillo though said the Chaves County Veterans, a group that cares for the veterans cemetery, did place flags at the veterans Cemetery.

For many veterans, not holding the ceremony represented a disappointment for a day that most view as more than just an extra day off from work.

“This day we use as Legionnaires and as veterans to honor our past and fallen comrades,” said Stephen Lee, commander of American Legion Post 61, also in Roswell.

Veterans, he added, feel a calling to pay tribute to those who died in service to country.

“If it were possible in any way we would be out there at the cemetery for the services,” Lee said.

Memorial Day though is also a day when Lee said he remembers veterans he has crossed paths with in the past, and others who have lived but had their lives greatly impacted by wars. He cites his uncle, a Vietnam War veteran who suffers from the effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant dropped by U.S. forces during that war that caused many veterans severe health problems.

Mark Rowland, First Vice Commander and Chaplin for the Legion’s Post 61, said he believes some ceremony should have been able to take place.

“Sad that we have let this COVID-19 pandemic take the world to such extreme social distancing to exclude honor and tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Rowland said.

Trujillo though said he too is sad, but the situation is not unique to Roswell and that Legion posts throughout the state are having to adjust their plans.

Many of the veterans who attend, he said, are older and therefore more vulnerable and more likely to contract the virus.

Lee said this year’s ceremony would have been different than others because for the first time in years the Legion now has two local posts. After many years of remaining dormant, Post 61 was revived late last year after “going dark” some time in the 1990s.

“And so we will probably include something in the memorial about this year where we would be unable to physically meet,” Lee said.

Both Trujillo and Lee though said just because the traditional ceremony didn’t occur this year does not mean those who died in service to country have been forgotten.

“They will always live in our hearts and minds so the spirit of the veteran will not be diminished by this, and we look forward to commemorating them next year,” Lee said.

Trujillo though said he hopes a ceremony can be held later this year after the limits on public gatherings have been rolled back.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.


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