The sound of silence filled the Memorial Day wreath-laying at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza War Memorial on Monday morning.
The memorial was unusually empty, as gatherings are still discouraged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. and a normally expressive Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t make any speeches. He did, however, join his wife, Chirlane McCray, Veterans Affairs Commissioner James Hendon and Deputy Director of the New York City Veterans Alliance James Fitzgerald to lay wreaths in honor of those lost in war.
The ceremony was marked by “Taps,” played by Police Department buglers, and the national anthem sung by Police Officer Jivanet Rivera.
“We have a handful of days throughout the year to honor our veterans and today is one of those days f0r those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Fitzgerald, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “This day is very somber in its meaning, even more so now that I have become a veteran and understand the importance of the day.”
He said the continued support means a great deal to the veteran community.
“Because we only have so much that we can do for our veteran community, one of the ways we can show support is to have days like this that we can truly come together as a country and community to show our honor and appreciation for our country’s service members,” Fitzgerald said.
Hendon agreed that, despite the lack of pomp and circumstance normally displayed on Memorial Day, some showing of support is always needed to honor veterans and those whose lives have been lost.
“We keep one foot in front of the other for whatever is going on and do what we can to be of value to our service members and to those we lost. Even in spite of this, we want them to know we have not forgotten about them,” Hendon said. “The biggest thing anyone can want is to be remembered. The veterans give so much of themselves for this country so we take time right now to make sure that we remember and for their families that we remember and keep them in our hearts.”
Many Memorial Day traditions had been canceled, including parades across the city, in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. In addition, many groups cancelled their annual placing of flags at soldiers’ graves because of the pandemic. At Hillside National Cemetery in Queens, only two flags were set at the graves of the veterans, where in the past, every grave received a flag — a salute to their sacrifice.
At Cypress Hills National Cemetery, there were more flags, but only one or two per row of memorial stones. A few people walked among the memorials, some nearly two centuries old.
“We must remember our veterans, that’s what I’m here to do,” said 70-year-old Orlando Encarnacion, a US Army veteran who served in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. He walked down the aisle of stones and saluted every few feet.
American Legions and Veterans of Foreign Wars also held scaled back versions of their Memorial Day observances, like VFW Post 107’s, which took place in Gerritsen Beach on Burnett Street and Whitney Avenue, where there is a stone memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers.
Also on the southern end of the borough, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 72 hosted a cars-only Memorial Day Parade along Third Avenue in Bay Ridge. The procession — made up of at least a dozen cars and motorbikes — stood in place of the neighborhood’s 150-year-old parade, the oldest Memorial Day march of its kind in the country.
The socially distant celebration concluded at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs Hospital near Seventh Avenue and Poly Place, where a wreath laying ceremony also took place.
This story first appeared on AMNY.com.