She wished it could have come sooner, but Rose Duffman Duval is just happy that soon all visitors to Arlington National Cemetery will enjoy the same access she was able to get even at the height of last year’s COVID-19 shutdown.
A Gold Star mother, Mrs. Duffman Duval said she didn’t have any problems with the restrictions at the massive military cemetery across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. Even during the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, she managed to secure a pass to visit the grave of her son, Air Force Tech Sgt. Scott Duffman.
Her son was a member of the Air Force’s elite Pararescue community, better known as the PJs. He was one of seven service members killed on Feb. 18, 2007, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Mrs. Duffman Duval said he volunteered to take the place of another member of his unit whose wife back home was about to give birth to their first child.
“Scott was good at what he did and he excelled at anything he loved or cared about. Being a PJ is what he lived for,” said Mrs. Duffman Duval, who lives about 40 miles away from the Arlington cemetery.
Before COVID-19 struck, she visited her son’s grave at least once a month and during all the holidays. Mrs. Duffman Duval said she can understand the frustration of other family members of the fallen who might have faced more challenges getting into the cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery “is run by the Army, and my experience is that there is an expectation from them that family pass holders need to understand this is an Army cemetery and not open to displays or activities found at other cemeteries,” Mrs. Duffman Duval said. “In my opinion, the rules were over the top and could have been lifted much sooner.”
The global pandemic hit the cemetery just as it did other public sites around the country.
Arlington National Cemetery officials say the success of vaccines in controlling the disease will make Memorial Day 2021 feel very different from a year ago.
Just in time for this Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery is finally easing its restrictions for family members of the fallen and visitors.
Arlington National Cemetery “is a safe environment, and we are pleased COVID conditions have improved enough that we may fully reopen to the public,” said Charles Alexander Jr., superintendent of the cemetery built on the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s sprawling manor that was confiscated during the Civil War. “We greatly missed everyone, and our staff and the [Tomb of the Unknowns] Sentinels miss sharing the cemetery’s rich history with our visitors.”
A year ago, funerals were limited to just 10 family members, and the Tomb of the Unknowns was closed to visitors. Even the folded flag traditionally handed to the grieving survivors was instead placed on a table next to the grave for fear of transmission.
It was just last week that Arlington National Cemetery and more than 100 other military burial grounds across the country announced a relaxation of the rules. The Metro subway stop and the visitors’ shop both reopened, and public access to the Tomb of the Unknowns was once again permitted.
It won’t quite be fully back to old times, however.
Masks remain mandatory at all indoor settings, and visitors who have yet to receive a vaccination shot will have to wear masks at all times on the grounds.
While COVID-19 restrictions are even easing across Europe, Memorial Day ceremonies at U.S. military cemeteries overseas will continue to remain closed this year. Officials with U.S. European Command said they will mark the day with flyovers and virtual ceremonies to commemorate service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Memorial Day provides a special opportunity to honor their courage in combat and selfless service,” said Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command. “Even though COVID-19 continues to impact our lives, (the) commitment to our fallen heroes buried on European soil continues.”
Early in his administration, President Biden set July 4 as a target date for national normalcy, a goal toward which the country could begin to resume traditional holiday observances largely free of pandemic restrictions.
But with almost 50% of the population having received their vaccine shots, for many it feels as if Memorial Day will be the first post-coronavirus holiday.
Surveys consistently show that people are often confused about Memorial Day. According to a study commissioned by the University of Phoenix, almost half of all Americans erroneously believe it is meant to honor all military veterans.
“It is important to understand that it is a solemn day of remembrance. For me, as a combat veteran, and for military members and their families, this day holds great significance,” said Brian Ishmael, a former Army sergeant with the University of Phoenix’s military and veterans affairs office.
During her undergraduate years, Cyndi Park-Sheils was surprised to learn that Memorial Day didn’t generate much interest from her fellow students at Elmira College in upstate New York. She always thought it was a big deal because her hometown, Waterloo, New York, is officially credited as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
“It’s a two-mile town, but the whole town is filled with bunting, from end to end,” said Ms. Park-Sheils, now with the town’s historical society. “Every building has bunting from top-to-bottom, and red-white-and-blue is everywhere.”
Waterloo spends the entire weekend commemorating Memorial Day, both with solemn visits to the local cemetery to honor those who fell in battle and boisterous parades.
“The reason they’re marching isn’t for themselves. They’re marching for all those who can’t be there to march,” Ms. Park-Sheils said.