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Long IslandNassau

War dead honored but in different ways because of coronavirus pandemic

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran welcome a convoy of World War II armored vehicles from the Museum of American Armor as they roll past Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

In Glen Cove, honoring the valor of the war dead for Memorial Day is being done in shifts, without the usual throngs of hundreds. 

Across Long Island and the nation, instead of placing an American flag at a veteran’s grave, uniformed Boy Scouts are saluting and reciting a fallen service member’s name — from home.

And along the Nassau-Suffolk border, armored vehicles — from World War II, from the Cold War, from Vietnam — on Sunday rumbled toward a military cemetery for a socially distant remembrance ceremony.

Memorial Day weekend during the coronavirus pandemic is being commemorated absent the crowds and parades and large gatherings that have marked the holiday since just after the Civil War.

“During these times of darkness and uncertainty, we need to look no further for inspiration than the honored war dead that we remember today,” said Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who spoke at the ceremony Sunday at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, where an armor column from the Museum of American Armor commemorated the day.

The vehicles traveled in a procession from the museum in Plainview to the cemetery —  picking up a Suffolk County police escort at Route 110 — arriving at the cemetery gates in time for the noon event.

The roots of Memorial Day date to May 5, 1868 — three years after the end of the Civil War — when an organization of Union veterans established “Decoration Day” to place flowers on the graves of the war dead, according to a history from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That year, the first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery.

In all other times, politicians would crisscross parades in the region — Little Neck-Douglaston, Hicksville, Huntington, Kings Park and beyond.

On Monday, Suozzi will attend a ceremony via the virtual teleconferencing app Zoom with other officials and then  a socially distant ceremony in Glen Cove, home to a communitywide parade in non-pandemic times.

At the Pinelawn ceremony Sunday attended by Suozzi and other dignitaries, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, the convoy of military vehicles stopped at the cemetery gates. Suozzi acknowledged “the enormous debt our nation owes the men and women who fell in battle defending our freedoms over the many generations,” according to a news release from the museum.

At each of the two national cemeteries on Long Island — including Calverton National Cemetery — only staff and a small delegation will be attending services that usually draw thousands: A wreath will be laid at each, a moment of silence observed and taps played.

Since March 23, military honors at the 142 cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs have been suspended due to the coronavirus emergency, according to Les' A. Melnyk, a spokesman for the department's National Cemetery Administration.

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