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COVID-19 doesn't stop Memorial Day ceremony

Veterans were honored Memorial Day at Eagle Point National Cemetery in ceremonies that were strikingly reflective of COVID-19 times as speakers spoke of loss and isolation.

It was a picture-perfect sunny day at the stunningly beautiful hilltop cemetery, administered by the National Park Service.

Because of pandemic physical distancing guidelines, there was no audience. However, Rhonda Haney, public affairs officer for the Veterans Affairs Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics, streamed the ceremonies via Facebook. The program is now posted and can be viewed on the SORCC Facebook page.

Wayne Goddard, acting director of the Eagle Point Cemetery, served as emcee. He said this year’s ceremony was a little different, noting that COVID-19 had taken many older veterans in the past several months.

“And because of that, we also want to honor Veterans Affairs health workers for their service on the front line,” he said.

Bob Huff, a past commander of the American Legion and a member of the Jackson County Veterans’ Advisory Committee, was the guest speaker.

“Memorial Day isn’t just about sales and the start of summer,” he said. “It’s a time to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect their country.”

He shared stories about heroes in action, urging listeners to honor them and to reflect on their service. Following Huff’s remarks, a wreath was placed near a group of flags representing the branches of military service by cemetery foreman David Barnes and John Martin.

SPC Gabrielle Luna and Sgt. Chase Myers of the 186th Infantry Regiment, Honors Unit, presented the colors. Craig Bryant of the Oregon National Guard played “Taps” during the ceremony to honor the fallen.

Victoria Olson, SORCC chaplain, provided the invocation and benediction.

During the ceremony and throughout the day, families and friends visited graves, placing flowers, balloons, and flags in remembrance.

Just before 11 a.m., the Kingsley Field 173rd Fighter Wing from Klamath Falls did a flyover at the VA SORCC to recognize fallen soldiers and to thank employees there for their service during the pandemic.

Jim Flint is a writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Craig Bryant of the Oregon National Guard bugles "Taps" at the Eagle Point Cemetery Memorial Day service.Photo by Jim Flint
A man searches for a soldier's grave at Eagle Point Cemetery on Memorial Day.Photo by Jim Flint