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Memorial Day ceremonies go virtual amid COVID-19

This Memorial Day will look different than years past as many ceremonies and programs will be held online due to the pandemic.

MINNEAPOLIS — On Friday morning, a stream of vehicles entered Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Typically over the three-day weekend, they'll have about 50,000 visitors come through the cemetery's gates. 

Deputy Cemetery Director John Knapp anticipates a similar amount of visitors but it will look different than years past.

Fort Snelling National Cemetery's Memorial Day ceremony will be held virtually. Knapp said it will look like a traditional ceremony but instead of in-person, it will be posted to their Facebook page this weekend. 

"It's hard for us to do this in a virtual manner but we know we have to do what we can for our nation," Knapp said. 

On Memorial Day, a private ceremony will be held in person with fewer than 10 cemetery personnel. They will post photos and videos of the ceremony to their Facebook page. 

"We will lay a wreath, we will have a moment of silence, and we will play taps," Knapp said. "Our goal here at Fort Snelling is to make sure we provide a dignified and honorable service for those veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Many places across the state are planning to host virtual ceremonies. Lakewood Cemetery is offering a pre-recording of their Memorial Day ceremony that will appear on their website on Saturday at noon. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) is planning a virtual 30-minute Memorial Day program that will air on TPT on Monday at 7:30 p.m. Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing is also planning on flying over 15 Twin Cities cemeteries to help honor the men and women who died while serving in the military.

Typically the group Flags for Fort Snelling will gather volunteers and place an American flag on every grave. But Knapp said no organized flag placement is allowed this weekend. Flags for Fort Snelling did take individual flag placement requests but those ended on Thursday at midnight. 

But Fort Snelling National Cemetery will be open from dawn to dusk and visitors are allowed to place individual flags and flowers on their loved ones' grave sites. 

Knapp said they are requesting everyone follow the CDC's guidelines including social distancing. 

They will also be setting up one-way traffic through the cemetery. Gravesite locators will not be operational due to social distancing but visitors can locate graves on their website and they're providing a map online.

"We advise our people to be patient. Understand that this is an odd environment for which we all our experiencing but don't lose sight of the fact of why we come out here on this Memorial Day. We come out here to pay our respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice," Knapp said. 

The VA has also launched a Veterans Legacy Memorial website where people can leave tributes or comments on a veteran's memorial page. 

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