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National cemeteries missing flags, ceremonies amid pandemic

By JAY REEVES, Associated Press

MONTEVALLO, Ala. (AP) — Pam Nichols usually spends Memorial Day with a huge crowd at the Alabama National Cemetery after helping place thousands of little U.S. flags on veterans’ graves. Both the crowds and the flags are missing this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency that oversees 142 national cemeteries closed them to public ceremonies and flag placement events to help stem the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Even Arlington National Cemetery, which is overseen by the Army, was skipping public events Monday.

So Nichols and a small group from the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery planned to privately lay a wreath at the central Alabama cemetery, where more than 8,100 veterans and relatives are buried.

“It’s disappointing, of course, because that’s what we exist for, honoring and keeping the memory of these veterans alive. But at the same time, I understand where they’re coming from,” said Nichols, who chairs the group.

The event would be recorded on video so people with loved ones at the cemetery can see it Monday, said Nichols.

A typical Memorial Day ceremony would draw more than 3,000 people to the cemetery, she said. While that won’t happen, cemetery director Steven Weir-Santos said it will still be open to visitors.

“We are preparing to be here and assist families any way we can,” said Weir-Santos, a veteran who works for the National Cemetery Administration. “I’m expecting a big crowd.”

The 479-acre cemetery is located about 30 miles south of Birmingham. The state has two other national cemeteries in Mobile and at Fort Mitchell near the Georgia line.

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