The national cemeteries run by the Department of Veterans Affairs will be open to the public for Memorial Day, but there will be no large ceremonies to honor the fallen due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to the VA's National Cemetery Administration, or NCA.
Those planning to visit one of the 142 VA national cemeteries, which have more than 4.7 million veteran gravesites, may be required to wear face masks, depending on local rules for following Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, said NCA spokesman Les Melnyk.
In addition, "we can't have mass flag placements" at gravesites to maintain social distancing, he added.
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The public is being asked to spread out their visits over the weekend leading up to Memorial Day on May 25, Melnyk said.
The rules on public access for the VA's national cemeteries contrast with those in effect at Arlington National Cemetery, which is under the jurisdiction of the Army and the Defense Department.
Arlington has been closed to the public, with the exception of family members, during the pandemic.
As of last week, Arlington spokesmen said no decisions had yet been made by the DoD on whether the public would have access to the traditional Memorial Day wreath laying at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier and address in the amphitheater, usually by the president.
Last year, President Donald Trump was on a state visit to Japan, so Vice President Mike Pence filled in for him.
The VA's cemeteries have remained open to the public during the pandemic, but committal services including an honor guard, if available, and the playing of "Taps" have been drastically curtailed since March 23 to prevent the spread of the virus.
Initially, no more than 10 family members were permitted at graveside. But as of April 15, witnessing family members have been asked to observe interments from their cars or on the road near their cars, the NCA said.
The result has been a backlog in committal services at VA cemeteries as families have decided to hold off on interments, particularly for cremains, Melnyk said.
"We're going to be extremely busy" once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, he added. He said a large ceremony to honor those interred during the restrictions might be planned, but families could also request individual services for those laid to rest during the pandemic.
"While we will work with families to schedule committal services once the crisis passes, we want to honor and remember these veterans now" with the creation of a "Roll of Honor" listing the names and service branches of the thousands interred since April 13, NCA said on its website.
The Roll of Honor can be seen at the NCA's website.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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