This Memorial Day was like no other for Oak Hill Memorial Park as it hosted its flag-raising ceremony online for the first time due to the COVID-19 crisis and shelter-in-place orders.
Oak Hill Memorial Park has hosted its flag-raising ceremony at the San Jose cemetery for more than 100 years. But this year felt a lot heavier and more somber, as only 10 people were allowed near the gravesite to maintain social distancing requirements.
On its Facebook page, the memorial park urged families to enjoy the flag-raising ceremony from home.
“We strongly encourage everyone to continue to follow the current shelter-in-place and social-distancing mandates,” they posted on their Facebook page, which included links for viewers to watch the ceremony online.
The veteran section at the cemetery was empty early Monday as workers prepared for the ceremony. Families wearing protective gear came to pay tribute to their loved ones and left quickly.
The Smith family showed up at the cemetery just as the sun started to rise Monday morning. They wanted to follow the public health order but also felt it was important to bring flowers to their family members.
“The best way to go about it was to come early in the morning to drop flowers off,” said John Smith, son of a World War II veteran. The family stayed at the cemetery only for a couple of minutes before heading home. “We can watch the ceremony from home later on.”
Nearly every family who came to drop off flowers left just as quickly.
“We appreciate these mourning families respecting the shelter-in-place order during these trying times,” said an Oak Hill employee, who asked to remain anonymous.
Across the country, Memorial Day ceremonies looked dramatically different. At Arlington National Cemetery, where thousands of Americans gathered each year to pay their respects to the fallen, the cemetery was open only to people who have loved ones buried there.
There were no speeches or public ceremonies. Nationally, COVID-19 has sickened 13,000 veterans and killed 1,100, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The memorial park in San Jose had set American flags up at every grave within the veteran area, rather than offering them at the front office.
A couple of boy scouts were there to help raise the main flag at the center of the veteran graveyard. All of them wore face masks and remained 6 feet apart from each other.
The Aquino family also headed to the San Jose cemetery early Monday, but their daughter, Jasmine Aquino, is serving in the Navy and was far away from home.
“I could not be there to celebrate with my family physically, but technology does wonders,” said Jasmine Aquino as she Facetimed her family from Lemoore. The family also planned to stream the ceremony from home later in the day.
The Aquino family said it was a shame that their daughter couldn’t be there. The Navy sailor had to follow shelter-in-place orders at her station, saying the rules there are just as strict as they are back home.
As families came and went Monday morning, the flags at the gravesites of veterans remained standing.
Oak Hill Memorial Park will stream its flag-raising ceremony on its website and Facebook page. The cemetery will remain open until 6 p.m.