In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Memorial Day observances in Homer took on a more somber tone. Though Anchorage and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson canceled official events because of the pandemic, on the lower Kenai Peninsula, veterans organizations continued the tradition of brief services at Hickerson Memorial Cemetery in Homer, the Anchor Point Cemetery and the Ninilchik Cemetery.
About 40 people attended the Homer service. The color guard members stood in proper — and socially distant — formation an arm’s length apart. In the open air and a slight breeze, families gathered together, some groups close together and others more distant. Few wore face masks.
Eileen Faulkner, retired U.S. Air Force and a victim of the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon, delivered the Memorial Day address.
“Every crisis has new heroes,” she said. “During the 9/11 attacks, they were the first responders running into burning and crumbling buildings as others ran out. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the most visible heroes are the health care professionals who are saving others and risking their own lives while doing so.”
Faulkner spoke of how the health care workers are like those honored on Memorial Day: America’s fallen heroes.
“They are ordinary in the fact that they represent the diverse fabric of our country,” she said. “They are rich and poor, black and white, male and female. They come from every ethnicity and background. In short, they look like any one of us.”
Health care workers call to mind the medics, doctors and nurses who lost their lives in battle, Faulkner said. Not all the heroes of the pandemic are health care workers, she noted.
“Grocers, first responders, delivery workers and drive-through restaurant employees are just a few of the many people that we rely on to provide vital services for society while risking their own safety,” she said.
So too does the military have heroes in every occupational field, Faulkner said.
“Truck drivers, cooks and administrative clerks have all paid the ultimate price. Their heroic acts are sometimes performed to protect those with whom they serve,” she said. “… Not all have died from enemy fire. Some have died from diseases that have too often festered around war zones.”
When the enemy is an invisible virus, the sacrifices matter as much, Faulkner said. The military has already lost service members to COVID-19.
“This Memorial Day as we continue to honor those who fell for us in battle, let’s also pause to remember those who have also sacrificed their lives while serving others,” Faulkner concluded.