Veterans Day events cancelled, changed due to COVID-19

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 7:27 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Parades through downtown Tallahassee are a distant memory in the year of COVID-19, but many groups are still looking to honor local heroes.

The Veterans Day parade is canceled for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Tallahassee City Commission voted to cancel that event, as well as every other city and large community event, through the rest of the year.

While many events will look different this year, some are hoping to still honor those who fought for this country.

“One day a year, we get one day a year where we get to honor people who, at one point in their life put on a uniform and wrote a blank check to the United States of America, payable in the amount of, and up to, their life,” said veteran Joe West in response to the parade being canceled. He voiced frustrations about veterans not having a say in the decision to cancel the event, or offering alternatives way to honor veterans.

At the end of last month, commissioners voted to cancel all events held in city parks or on city property. Some commissioners spoke out, saying this is not the time to hold large gatherings, and they weren’t comfortable doing so because of the pandemic.

But some organizations are finding new ways to keep traditions going.

Every year at the Tallahassee National Cemetery, flags are placed to represent every person who was laid to rest there.

This year, flags will again be placed but it will be done by staff and private groups, and will not be open to the public.

“Each of those people who are interred here, it’s a way to make sure that no veteran ever dies. It’s to keep their memory alive,” said Director Raymond Miller. “We do this every year, with COVID, without COVID, other guidelines. This is something we do, is make sure everybody remembers those veterans.”

On Thursday, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie made a stop at the cemetery. He said, with so many events canceled, another way to honor and support veterans is by hiring them.

“By the time they’re 23 or 24, have probably made more life-altering decisions than the average American does in a lifetime,” Wilkie said. “They look you straight in the face, we know that they give incredible value to any organization.”

His visit to the cemetery was part of a national tour to thank workers at National Cemeteries who have never slowed down during this pandemic. The Tallahassee National Cemetery, like every other, never closed.

During his stop, WCTV also asked the Secretary about another crisis many families are facing: veteran suicide and the need for mental health services.

Secretary Wilkie says every day, 20 veterans across the nation die by suicide. But, oftentimes, the challenge is in finding the veterans who need help.

Earlier this year, President Trump signed legislation that allows the department to provide financial support to local, non-governmental organizations and their outreach, in order to ensure those veterans are noticed.

“Because of the 20 veterans that take their lives every day, 16 are not with the VA,” Wilkie said. “The majority are from my father’s generation, Vietnam. These are folks who have had a bad feeling about government for decades and decades. Our job is to help find them.”

The second part of addressing this, he added, is changing the department’s approach to mental health.

Secretary Wilkie says now they begin talking about mental health while military members are going through basic training. That way they already have an understanding of mental health needs when they get to the VA.

Local veteran Joe West is planning to hold a moment of silence at the Tallahassee veteran memorial on Veterans Day at 11:00 a.m. Anyone is welcome to attend to honor our heroes.

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