In these unprecedented times, I have found myself reflecting more and more on the importance of tradition. Our great nation is rooted in many wonderful traditions. They bind us together, they strengthen us. They provide structure to our lives. They give meaning to the sacrifices that have been made to preserve our freedoms and our way of life.
In normal times, many Oregonians would be taking part in their own time-honored traditions on this Memorial Day. Thousands would line the streets or fill the parks in their home communities, coming together for parades, ceremonies and other solemn events to observe this important day.
Instead of standing alone in front of the Oregon Afghan-Iraqi Freedom Memorial, recording a speech for our virtual ceremony, as I recently did, I would have the privilege of seeing hundreds of honored veterans and family members at our Statewide Memorial Day Ceremony gathered at that Memorial, a tradition we have faithfully observed for almost 15 years.
But these are not normal times. We can’t gather together in the normal way. Yet this doesn’t mean that we can’t observe these traditions, it just means that we must find a new way to observe them. In fact, in this time of great uncertainty and loss, it’s more important than ever for us to hold observances in honor of heroes of all types, but especially those who died fighting for the values and institutions of our American way of life. I would include the untold number of veterans who lost their lives in a very different kind of battle – fighting this insidious Coronavirus. It is more than ironic that these incredibly strong individuals survived military conflicts against human enemies only to succumb so tragically to an unseen enemy.
So that is why ODVA’s Memorial Day tradition will continue on Monday with our first-ever Virtual Statewide Memorial Day Ceremony. The virtual ceremony, which will include a number of messages reflecting on the importance of our great nation — and the generations of proud veterans that have safeguarded it.
I invite all Oregonians to join us for this meaningful and one-of-a-kind event, which you can tune into on ODVA’s Facebook page at 10 a.m. Monday, or anytime thereafter.
Our partners at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are also offering new ways for the public to pay tribute to our honored veterans including a new online initiative called the Veterans Legacy Memorial.
The site, which contains a memorial page for each veteran and service member interred in a national cemetery, has been available since 2019, but this week that the VA is introducing a new way to observe Memorial Day by permitting online visitors to leave a comment of tribute on a veteran’s page.
The tribute allows visitors to voice memories and appreciation for a veteran’s service. You can visit today at www.vlm.cem.va.gov.
Our nation’s greatest traditions have always started small. Long before there were parades and speeches, long before there were memorials and national cemeteries, Memorial Day began with a very simple tradition.
Families, and small communities, still reeling in the wake of the American Civil War, would visit the local graves of fallen service members, decorating them with flowers picked by their own hands.
This tradition eventually became formalized as a national holiday called Decoration Day, and more recently, Memorial Day. But it was always the tradition that really mattered — the simple act of pausing, honoring and remembering those brave individuals who put on a military uniform and died in defense of freedom and democracy.
And that is still the tradition that matters most today. That is the tradition that no virus or other disaster can take from us. It may change how we observe our traditions, but it cannot in itself end those traditions. And it does not, and cannot, change the enormity of the sacrifices that we honor and remember today.
In a time of great uncertainty and loss, we must remember that we have so much to be thankful for. We are thankful for the service of all of our veterans, from the most recent conflicts to World War II — the 75th anniversary of which we recognize this year. Thank you for fighting to keep our great nation safe and free.
We are grateful for our many veterans across the state of Oregon, who continue to serve and sacrifice in these unprecedented times. They are nurses and doctors and other health care workers; they are firefighters, police officers and first responders; they are mail carriers, grocery clerks and other essential workers, continuing to serve on the front lines of the critical response to COVID-19 and in so many other ways that help keep our society healthy, safe and strong.
And, we are forever grateful to those who paid the ultimate price in service to our country, all those who gave the last full measure of devotion. Our nation is stronger, and our future is brighter, because of them. We will never forget their service and sacrifice.
Finally, thank you for taking time out this week, wherever you are, to continue this important tradition of honoring, remembering and celebrating our nation’s heroes. I look forward to the day that we can once again be together in person to honor our veterans. Until then, please stay safe and well.
Kelly Fitzpatrick is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Governor Kate Brown’s policy advisor on veterans’ issues. She is a retired Army officer. Her military awards and decorations include multiple awards of the Meritorious Service Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal and the Army Parachutist Badge.