Without the fanfare of parades, military salutes and marching bands, the Chicago region is planning new ways to honor military personnel on Memorial Day during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chicago’s annual Memorial Day Parade and wreath-laying ceremony were canceled this year, as were dozens of celebrations in the suburbs. But some towns and counties are getting creative to mark the holiday.
Although Elmhurst nixed its annual parade, the western suburb will go forward with a different ceremony to ensure social distancing. Elmhurst is planning a convoy of dozens of police, fire and military vehicles to drive through town. Mayor Steve Morley said the route will allow residents to watch from home or walk a short distance to view the motorcade as it goes by.
“Many of us felt that we were not going to let this day pass without doing everything we could to show the proper respect,” he said.
Big crowds typically line the street for the annual parade, Morley said, but Elmhurst wants to avoid that this year. He said residents are being urged to turn their own vehicles toward the convoy as it passes, and to flash their lights. Residents can also tune into Elmhurst College’s campus radio station, which will be playing patriotic music.
Some towns are taking their Memorial Day events online, offering a livestream or pre-taped ceremony for people to watch from home.
In Riverside, west of Chicago, American Legion Post 488 will hold a Zoom event with an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. He’ll perform Lincoln’s second inaugural address, with its famous “malice toward none” line, delivered during the final days of the Civil War.
“The political climate and the emotion of the nation at that time very closely fits that of our nation right now, where we’re kind of at the end of our own crises,” said Marla Curran, the community outreach coordinator for Post 488. “It’s going to pull on the heartstrings and kind of just bring people together.”
The American Legion has launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #candlesofhonor calling on people to honor military personnel by lighting candles. Red candles symbolize “those who shed blood in combat,” white candles “remind us of all the POWs and MIAs who are not yet home” and blue candles “symbolize our eternal love of those who did not come home but have since left us,” according to the legion’s website.
DuPage County has created a virtual celebration where families can upload pictures and stories of loved ones who have served. The website includes an “Honor Map” where users can click on and scroll through tributes to DuPage County military personnel based on their hometowns or fields of operation.
The Archdiocese of Chicago plans to hold online Masses on Memorial Day. The archdiocese says cemetery field Masses are canceled, but grounds will be open for visitors, who are encouraged to wear face masks, practice social distancing and keep groups to under 10 people.
Minju Park is a news intern at WBEZ.
Correction: A previous version of this story linked to the wrong Facebok page for the American Legion Post 488. There correct page is facebook.com/AmericanLegionRiverside.