Western Mass. Marks Memorial Day A Little Differently Amid COVID-19

May 22, 2020

Memorial Day usually means parades and other public ceremonies honoring those who died while serving the armed forces. With COVID-19 restrictions, some western Massachusetts communities are changing how they mark the occasion. 

In the Florence section of Northampton, there's been a Memorial Day parade for over 150 years, but not this year.

Instead, a virtual ceremony will be held with many of the traditions of the parade, including the playing of "Taps" and a one-gun salute at the Park Street Cemetery, where the parade usually ends. Five veterans last weekend, wearing masks and keeping their distance, recorded this part of the virtual ceremony.

It will be broadcast on the city's cable system and online at the same time the parade would have taken place. Steve Connor, the veterans agent for several Hampshire County communities, helped put it together.

"We don't want the sacrifices of veterans being forgotten," Connor said. "That's pain on top of pain for so many families, so it's just important that we do whatever we can to recognize their service and their sacrifice."

A videotaped ceremony is also being produced for Amherst, incorporating that town's Memorial Day traditions. Connor said another tradition — placing small flags in cemeteries — is also happening in the communities he serves.

"We've put out over 7,000 flags so far in our cemeteries, and we're still making sure we get them all out," Connor said.

But flags aren't being placed in Springfield cemeteries, according to Mayor Domenic Sarno, out of an abundance of caution due to COVID-19.

"We're going to do a wreath at each and every one of those cemeteries, whether large like a St. Michaels, or very small ones," he said.

And Sarno said he'll participate in the usual wreath-laying Friday at a veterans monument at Springfield's Court Square.

In southern Berkshire County, some communities have chosen to hold so-called "wave parades" to mark Memorial Day – like those that have been used to help celebrate birthdays during the pandemic.

Lenox state Representative Smitty Pignatelli urged the towns he represents to consider the idea.

"No matter what circumstances we are facing in the world, we owe it to our veterans to honor those who have served and the ones we have lost," he said.

A press release from Pignatelli's office said Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, West Stockbridge and Sheffield have agreed to take part in the celebrations.