Many traditional Memorial Day observances in Los Angeles County were conducted on a virtual basis Monday because spectators were barred due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The 131st Memorial Day Celebration was held at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood with U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Leeney using the keynote speech to draw a parallel between health care professionals treating coronavirus patients and fallen members of the armed forces.
“They are both elite and ordinary people,” said Leeney, deputy commanding general of the 40th Infantry Division, based at Joint Forces Training Base-Los Alamitos.
“They are elite in the sense of their character. Giving your life so that others may live is the ultimate definition of selflessness. They are also ordinary in the fact that they represent the diverse fabric of our country. They come from every ethnicity and background and could be any one of us.”
A recorded message from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was played.
“We know the sacrifice of our fallen brothers and sisters is the framework of our freedom,” Garcetti said. “The debt we owe them is unending, one that we can never repay.”
Garcetti was speaking at the 73rd annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Mexican-American All Wars Monument at Cinco Puntos in Boyle Heights, which was held simultaneously with the ceremony at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez celebrated a special Memorial Day Mass at Holy Cross Cemetery and Mortuary in Culver City honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. The Mass also included a tribute to those who have died during the coronavirus pandemic and have not had funeral Masses.
“Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, and it is also a day to keep alive the life and memory of so many men and women who unselfishly gave their lives for our country,” Gomez said.
“Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend, and the men and women we remember today were people of great love. So let us honor the memory of those who served by living and defending the values they died for.”
In his Memorial Day proclamation, President Donald Trump proclaimed Monday as a day of prayer for permanent peace, designating 11 a.m. in each time zone as a time during which people might unite in prayer, citing a 1950 joint resolution by Congress.
Trump also asked all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3 p.m. in each time zone under a bill signed into law in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton.
The Moment of Remembrance is a “way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day,” its founder Carmella LaSpada said.
“This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied victories over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II,” Trump declared in his proclamation.
“As we commemorate these seminal events, we also remember the tremendous cost at which these victories came. More than 400,000 souls of the Greatest Generation perished during this titanic struggle to liberate the world from tyranny.
“In his address to the nation on Japan’s surrender, President Truman’s words remind us all of our enduring obligation to these patriots for their sacrifice, `It is our responsibility — ours, the living — to see to it that this victory shall be a monument worthy of the dead who died to win it.’
“As we pause to recall the lives lost from the ranks of our armed forces, we remain eternally grateful for the path they paved toward a world made freer from oppression.”
What became Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, as Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers.
It was established 25 days earlier by Maj. Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans who fought for the Union in the Civil War. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the nation.
By the end of the 19th century, Decoration Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. After World War I, the holiday was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in all wars.
The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, became more common after World War II and declared the official name by federal law in 1967.
Memorial Day had been observed on May 30, until being moved to the last Monday in May in 1971 under terms of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which became law in 1968.
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