The coronavirus pandemic has claimed another early summer Detroit Lakes tradition: There will be no Memorial Day Parade this year.
"There are two issues here," said Jason Bristlin, vice commander of VFW Post 1676 in Detroit Lakes. "One is the parade — we don't really want a bunch of people hanging around together along the route, because of the social distancing .... and then there's the program at the Pavilion."
Memorial Day is Monday, May 25.
Bristlin noted that the crowd that turns out for the Memorial Day program at the Pavilion typically includes a large number of older residents — i.e., those who are most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
So instead of doing the typical parade and program, he said, they are planning a much smaller program at the Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Detroit Lakes — a large, outdoor venue where they will hopefully be able to maintain proper social distancing more easily.
"We will be having the Color Guard do the 21-gun salute," Bristlin said, adding that as part of the festivities, they will also be lowering the Stars and Stripes and service flags in the park to replace them with new ones, to be raised up again once the ceremony is completed.
There will be a prayer offered by the VFW chaplain (the VFW and Legion alternate in presenting the program each year), and a few dignitaries will speak, but the ceremony will be much briefer than in years past, Bristlin noted.
Lake Region Veterans Color Guard member Dave Coalwell, who is the coordinator of the Avenue of Flags at Oak Grove Cemetery just north of Detroit Lakes, said they are still finalizing plans for this year's flag display, which may be smaller than usual due to concerns over the amount of people that would need to gather together to get all the flags up and ready.
"This is the first time in my memory that we haven't had a Memorial Day parade," Coalwell said.
Flag fund in need of donations
The flags at Veterans Memorial Park are in need of replacement, and Coalwell said that donations to the city's Flag Fund — which is used to maintain the park's eight flags — are much needed this year.
There are seven flags on the west end of the park, and one flag on the east end. The flags that are flying include two American flags, one 5-by-8 feet and one 4-by-6 feet; one flag from each of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and a POW flag honoring all American prisoners of war.
Coalwell said in a news release that the service flags are replaced as many as five times each year, the POW as many as seven times, and the two American flags as often as three times, at an annual cost of nearly $1,400. The current balance in the fund will not completely cover this cost.
The Flag Fund relies entirely on community donations, Coalwell said, and any help would be appreciated. Donations can be made to the City of Detroit Lakes, earmarked specifically for the Flag Fund. Call the city office at 218-847-5658 for more information.