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Memorial Day traditions canceled due to COVID-19 concerns

Several annual Memorial Day traditions in the Riverhead area have been called off due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The Combined Veterans of Riverhead has canceled its annual Memorial Day parade and ceremonies typically held at World War monuments in the downtown area.

“It’s not happening this year,” said Mike Pankowski, a member of the town’s Veterans Advisory Committee and American Legion liaison to Calverton National Cemetery.

“But we haven’t forgotten. We’re doing the best we can under the situation,” he said Friday.

No public ceremonies will be held at Calverton National Cemetery, Mr. Pankowski said, including the annual tradition that sees groups including the Boy Scouts place flags at each of the more than 200,000 gravesites.

In a statement, the National Cemetery Administration said they are continuing to monitor guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as well as state and local officials to inform a decision on Memorial Day services.

“Regardless of whether a cemetery holds a public ceremony, VA national cemeteries will observe Memorial Day in some fashion,” a statement on its website said.

Memorial Day is May 25.

Les Melnyk, a spokesperson for the NCA, said Friday that every national cemetery intends to commemorate Memorial Day and each of the cemeteries remain open amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Visitors and families, he said, are welcome to visit but must adhere to social distancing and mask guidelines and expect that buildings—chapels, public information centers — may be closed due to the pandemic.

“We don’t want to see clusters,” Mr. Melnyk said. “But there’s nothing that keeps a family from placing a flag or flowers at their loved ones grave.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at his afternoon media briefing Saturday that he has written the VA to allow for local health departments to approve such ceremonies, so long as they can assure safety guidelines are being met.

“This virus has taken a lot from us,” Mr. Bellone said. “We cannot allow it to stop us from honoring America’s heroes.”

Mr. Pankowski and Thomas Najdzion, commander of the Riverhead Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the committee is exploring the possibility of holding private ceremonies in remembrance of service members who have lost their lives.

“We’re trying to see what we’re allowed to do,” Mr. Najdzion said. “I don’t know how much we’ll be able to assemble. It’s still up in the air.”

Any kind of ceremony, Mr. Pankowski said, would have to adhere with the current restrictions that limit gatherings to 10 people.