On Monday, Tom Jankiewicz and two other members of the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation placed American flags in front of about 135 grave markers at Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Newtown, Bucks County, to honor veterans on Memorial Day.
“It’s a very serene place where you look at the markers and everything,” Jankiewicz, 77, of Northeast Philadelphia, said by phone afterward. “Today is the day to honor people who served so we can be a free country.”
Jankiewicz, who served in the Marines from 1965 to 1989 and who fought in the Vietnam War, said in normal times, there would have been a public service at the cemetery. But with the coronavirus pandemic, that was not possible.
Because of the need to continue social distancing during the pandemic, there were no large gatherings to commemorate Memorial Day in the region. Instead, the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund posted a link to a three-minute virtual ceremony that was prerecorded last week. The Battleship New Jersey held a 15-minute ceremony, which was shown live on Facebook. And nationwide, musicians marked the holiday by playing “Taps.”
Trumpeters in Philadelphia and across the country heeded a call from CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman and retired Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva to play the funeral and military ceremony tune from lawns and porches at 3 p.m. Monday as part of the “Taps Across America” event.
The intention was to remember not just fallen service members but also victims of the coronavirus pandemic. Philadelphia Orchestra principal trumpeter David Bilger and Jeffrey Curnow, the orchestra’s associate principal trumpeter, played an echo version of taps in front of Bilger’s Bala Cynwyd house.
“It’s a chance to remember the sacrifice that makes it so we can live the lives we live,” Bilger said. "For me it’s about capturing the solemnity of it.”
In a prerecorded ceremony posted online Monday by the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Mike Daily, 74, of East Falls, the group’s executive director, thanked the 648 Philadelphians killed during the Vietnam War and their families for the sacrifices they made. The group was not able to hold its normal ceremony at the memorial on Spruce Street near Columbus Boulevard because of the coronavirus.
Still, dozens of people visited the Society Hill memorial Monday. Matt Flannery, his wife, and two of their three daughters looked at the names of Philadelphians killed in the Vietnam War etched into the charcoal gray granite wall. “I’ve never been down here,” said Flannery, 50, of Glenside, Montgomery County. “It’s important for them to see it,” he said of his daughters, Dylan, 16, and Erin, 9.
Normally the family would have gone to the Jersey Shore or attended the Memorial Day Parade in Wyndmoor, but they didn’t want to be among crowds and the parade was canceled.
“We wanted to bring the girls down and pay our respects,” said his wife, Susan.