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Cities observe Memorial Day with virtual ceremonies

NORWALK — Online tributes marked Memorial Day celebrations in a handful of southeast cities which steered clear of physical observances fearful of the lurking coronavirus that has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 47,000 in the region.

Norwalk, Paramount and South Gate aired online messages honoring the fallen heroes of wars but all canceled live ceremonies. 

In Downey, the nonofficial virtual homages featured an internet fundraiser for veterans and wounded soldiers by opening virtual races in observance of the 152th Memorial Day.

Norwalk’s City Council pre-recorded and transmitted an 11-minute video on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and local television channels featuring Mayor Jennifer Perez, who paid respects to members of the U.S. armed forces — the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps, the Navy and the Army — in front of the city’s Freedom Memorial outside City Hall.

“Today, and every day, the city of Norwalk honors its fallen heroes and surviving veterans,” said Perez, who asked viewers to observe one moment of silence and laid a memorial wreath outside City Hall.

Vice Mayor Tony Ayala recalled he grew up during the Vietnam War and witnessed the loss of friends who lived in Norwalk in a conflict they were drafted for, aware of the chances of not returning home, leaving families broken forever.  

“In that experience, I saw what a profound loss it was for their families,” Ayala said. “For the [soldiers,] it is over, but for their families, they carry the burden for the rest of their lives.” 

Paramount honored its war heroes with a virtual Memorial Day vommemoration page on its website, added information about the history of Memorial Day, and posted statements from Mayor Peggy Lemons and council members, with links to crafts and activities for families and children to do at home.

The activities suggested taking pictures in front of American flag or while residents enjoyed barbecues and coloring pages with passages related to patriots and soldiers in action.   

“Memorial Day is a time to remember and to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives in battles and are not longer with us,” Lemons said. “Across the nation, they are a band of heroes who have given their lives so that we live the privileged lives they died for.”

The city paid homage to Partamount residents who died during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War by posting their names online and the year of battle. 

Paramount added a YouTube video of the West Point Band, the oldest active military music ensemble founded in 1817, performing the “Star Spangled Banner.” 

“We are under county stay-at-home orders, so there [were] no outdoor ceremonies scheduled to take place,” on the weekend, Paramount Community Services and Recreation Director David Johnson said. 

South Gate uploaded its own virtual holiday program with tips on how to honor fallen military personnel, a segment describing Memorial Day history and links to two armed forces salute videos from 2018 and 2019, with speeches from Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, and Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff.

Another YouTube video, narrated by actor Gary Sinise, told the story of Marine Sgt. John Peck, who survived a car bomb explosion in Afghanistan but lost his arms and legs.  

Although Downey did not schedule virtual observances, residents opened an Eventbrite account to raise funds for a nonprofit with an event branded the first Memorial Day Virtual Run Challenge, calling for a 21-mile walk while selling a packet with a race bib and a finisher’s medal.  

Normally, Downey holds a Memorial Day ceremony at the city’s cemetery, but Councilman Sean Ashton confirmed the city canceled the event to mitigate further germ contagion.

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer