UNITED STATES NEWS

Vets return to Memorial Day traditions as pandemic eases

May 30, 2021, 4:00 PM
Army veteran Willie Ransom poses at the American Legion Lodge named after his son, Air Force Major ...

Army veteran Willie Ransom poses at the American Legion Lodge named after his son, Air Force Major Charles Ransom in Midlothian, Va., Thursday, May 27, 2021. The younger Ransom was among eight U.S. Airmen killed when an Afghan military pilot opened fire at the Kabul airport in 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

BOSTON (AP) — A pair of military vets navigate the hilly, meandering paths in a historic cemetery in Boston, searching out soldiers’ graves and planting American flags in front of them.

About 10 miles away, scores of other vets and volunteers do the same, placing more than 37,000 small flags on the downtown Boston Common — a sea of red, white and blue meant to symbolize all the Massachusetts soldiers killed in battle since the Revolutionary War. It’s an annual tradition that returns in full this year after being significantly scaled back in 2020 because of the pandemic.

In Boston and elsewhere, this holiday weekend will feel something closer to Memorial Days of old, as COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted in many places.

“This Memorial Day almost has a different, better feeling to it,” said Craig DeOld, a 50-year-old retired captain in the Army Reserve, as he took a breather from his flag duties at the Fairview Cemetery earlier this week. “We’re breathing a sigh of relief that we’ve overcome another struggle, but we’re also now able to return to what this holiday is all about — remembering our fallen comrades.”

Around the nation, Americans will be able to pay tribute to fallen troops in ways that were impossible last year, when virus restrictions were in effect in many places. It will also be a time to remember the tens of thousands of veterans who died from COVID-19 and recommit to vaccinating those who remain reluctant.

Art delaCruz, a 53-year-old retired Navy commander in Los Angeles leads the Veterans Coalition for Vaccination, said his group has been encouraging inoculated veterans to volunteer at vaccine sites to dispel myths and help assuage concerns, many of which are also shared by current service members.

“We understand it’s a personal choice, so we try to meet people where they are,” said delaCruz, who is also president of Team Rubicon, a disaster-response nonprofit made up of military veterans.

There’s no definitive tally for coronavirus deaths or vaccinations among American military vets, but Department of Veterans Affairs data shows more than 12,000 have died and more than 2.5 million have been inoculated against COVID-19 out of the roughly 9 million veterans enrolled in the agency’s programs.

The isolation of the pandemic has also been particularly hard on veterans, many of whom depend on kinship with fellow service members to cope with wartime trauma, says Jeremy Butler, a 47-year-old Navy Reserve officer in New York who heads the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“We’re reuniting now, but it’s been an extremely challenging year,” he said. “To have those connections cut off — the counseling sessions, the VA appointments, social events with other vets — those are so important to maintaining mental health.”

But for the families of veterans who survived the horrors of war, only to be felled by COVID-19, Memorial Day can reopen barely healed wounds.

In western Massachusetts, Susan Kenney says the death of her 78-year-old father last April from the virus still remains raw.

Charles Lowell, an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War, was among 76 residents of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home who died in one of America’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks last year in a long-term care facility. A memorial service was held at the home earlier this week, and the names of residents who died over the past calendar year were read aloud.

Kenney, who has been a vocal advocate for reforming the troubled home, says there are still lingering questions about who else should be held accountable, even as top officials at the state-run facility face criminal negligence and abuse charges and federal and state agencies launch investigations.

“I’ve been reliving this for a whole year,” she said. “At every milestone. Veterans Day. His birthday. His death anniversary. Everything is a constant reminder of what happened. It’s so painful to think about.”

For other families, Memorial Day will be as it ever was, a day to remember loved ones killed in war.

In Virginia, Willie Ransom, a 74-year-old Vietnam War vet, said his family will hold a modest service at the grave of his youngest son.

Air Force Maj. Charles Ransom was among eight U.S. airmen killed in Afghanistan when an Afghan military pilot opened fire at the Kabul airport in 2011. The American Legion post in Midlothian, Virginia, that the elder Ransom once helped lead is now named in his honor.

The Powhatan resident says a silver lining this year is that the country is poised to end the war that claimed his 31-year-old son and the lives of more than 2,200 other American fighters. President Joe Biden has promised to end the nation’s longest conflict by Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks that launched the war.

“It’s the best decision we could make,” Ransom said. “It’s become like Vietnam. They don’t want us there. We should have been out of there years ago.”

Back in Boston, DeOld will be thinking about his father, an Army vet wounded in a grenade attack in Vietnam.

Louis DeOld returned home with a Purple Heart and went on to become a police officer in New Jersey, but the physical and mental scars of war persisted long after, his son said. He died in 2017 at the age of 70.

On Memorial Day, DeOld will gather with fellow vets at the VFW post in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood that he commands.

They will lay a wreath by the American flag out front and then grill burgers out back. It will be the first large social event hosted by the post since the pandemic virtually shuttered the hall more than a year ago.

“I hope it’s nice,” DeOld said. “I hope folks linger. Families and friends gather. Good camaraderie. The way it should be.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

United States News

Vanessa LaBrie holds onto her two children, Kiersteyn Fields, 10, and her brother Landon Baker, 8 ,...
Associated Press

Expert: Police should have been told before school shooting

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — The warning signs were there: A search for gun ammunition on a cellphone, drawings of blood on a school desk and a written plea for help. But on Tuesday, roughly 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Detroit at Oxford High School, the student in question was sent back to the classroom […]
19 hours ago
An Oakland County Sheriff's deputy, left, and an Oxford police officer search the grounds outside o...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: How unusual to charge parents in school shooting?

Guns used in U.S. school shootings have often come from the homes of young perpetrators, but parents are rarely charged for the violence that occurs, experts say. That’s what makes the case against Ethan Crumbley’s parents uncommon, following the fatal shooting of four students at Oxford High School in southeastern Michigan. Oakland County prosecutor Karen […]
19 hours ago
FILE - San Francisco Chief of Protocol Charlotte Mailliard Shultz makes preparations prior to a ser...
Associated Press

San Francisco philanthropist, chief of protocol dies at 88

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Charlotte Mailliard Shultz, the long-reigning chief of San Francisco protocol and unofficial aide to 10 mayors, died Friday of complications from cancer. She was 88. The socialite died at her Stanford home, designer Stanlee Gatti confirmed to multiple news outlets. Friends and family called her a true San Franciscan — she […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Fire official: Gas odor after blast razes Oklahoma City home

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Fire crews on the scene after an explosion leveled a house in Oklahoma City on Friday could smell gas, a fire official said. Neighbors reported the blast about 3:20 p.m. “It felt like a bomb had happened, a big old bomb,” neighbor Esperanza Hernandez said. “The structure here is pretty much […]
19 hours ago
Migrants begin their walk north from the community of La Lima in southern Veracruz state, Mexico, e...
Associated Press

Mexico overhauls handling of migrants to release pressure

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — Benjamín Villalta, a 39-year-old Nicaraguan, couldn’t believe that a Mexican immigration office would open in the middle of the night to give him and some 40 other migrants one-year humanitarian visas allowing them to move about Mexico and work. “They took our information and at most we waited half an hour,” […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Officer killed, suspect wounded in Dallas-area shooting

MESQUITE, Texas (AP) — A shooting outside a suburban Dallas supermarket left a police officer dead and a suspect wounded on Friday, authorities said. It happened about 1:40 p.m. outside an Albertson’s supermarket in Mesquite, Police Chief David Gill said. The officer was responding to a report of a disturbance in the store parking lot […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
ENVOQUE MD

Thyroid issues: Here are the warning signs and what to do

In a 100-person office in the United States, an estimated 12 co-workers, employees and loved ones, will likely develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. That’s because, according to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of the U.S. population will experience thyroid issues.
(Facebook Photo/NHTSA)...
Sweet James

Upcoming holiday season is peak time for DUI arrests

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most dangerous time of the year to be driving. That’s why it’s important to remember to call Sweet James Accident Attorneys if you’re injured or arrested because of a DUI accident.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Why fall maintenance is important for your heating system and A/C

It’s easy to ignore your heater and air conditioner when they’re working but the moment something breaks, you will likely regret not keeping up with maintenance. After all, if something goes wrong, you may be stuck with a repair that will take longer and be more expensive than simple maintenance.
Vets return to Memorial Day traditions as pandemic eases