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Veterans group holds Memorial Day services amid pandemic

Posted at 5:21 PM, May 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-25 22:04:38-04

MILWAUKEE — Despite parades and services being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a local veterans group held its own ceremony to honor the lives lost during war.

"We weren't going to pass it up," Bob Pfeifer, a Vietnam Marine Veteran said. "We think, some things are too sacred. Forget about the COVID-19. This is important."

Pfeifer is part of the Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans Chapter One. He and another member put the services together. Around noon, two to three dozen military veterans came together to read the names of 40 Wisconsinites lost during the Vietnam War.

As members of the military during one of the nation's most divisive wars, Pfeifer says they felt forgotten once but he's not letting that happen again.

"We were happy to come out here today," Pfeifer said. "We planned this. We weren't sure what we would fine or if we would be in trouble."

Many wore masks during the ceremonies and kept their social distancing. Interactions were at a minimum; some fist bumps, elbow taps or something similar. The one thing COVID-19 can't take from them is honor.

"It's probably one of the most important days for any veteran," Jim Jacobi, a Vietnam Army Veteran said. "It means a lot. To be with my brothers and be with my brothers who are [at Wood National Cemetery]. What they gave is their life for this country. We can give our support to them."

"Memorial Day is perhaps the most profound of the Veterans' Days," Alvin Flowers, a Vietnam Marine Veteran said. "We're forced to remember the carnage of war. Many of us have survivor's guilt. Why did I survive and these guys didn't? It's important to us."

Flowers was one of the many wearing a mask. He says it was a small step he could take to make sure he honored his lost brethren.

"Of course, I had reservations, as all of us do about our health," Flower said. "But as the gentleman said earlier, it's worth it."

A sentiment shared by others who traversed the maze of white marble graves at Wood National Cemetery Monday. One grave, adorned with flowers, mementos and other messages sticks out from the rest. It's the grave of Michelle Witmer; the first woman in the history of the National Guard to be killed in combat in 2004.

"We do it every year," Kristin Berglund, a family friend of the Witmer's said. "Just to remember Michelle and intentionally thank her and everybody else for the sacrifice they made."

Berglund was one of the many to visit the gravesite. On top of the tombstone, a handful of pocket change lays there. However, it carries much more meaning, showing who has visited the site.

The pennies represent anyone who paid their respects there.

Nickels and dimes represent people who served with the fallen in some capacity.

Quarters, the most sobering. They represent those who were with the fallen when they died.

It serves as a reminder for what the day is all about.

"Things are more important," Berglund said. "Family seems more important. Time together seems more important. The things we take for granted are more apparent and evident."

Berglund also views this as an opportunity to teach her nieces about what's important. Despite the concerns over COVID-19, she hopes to instill this tradition in them to honor the troops.

"A lot of people who still want to honor, we can still do that safely," Berglund said. "There are safe ways to do lots of things. As long as we can be safe and healthy about it, we'll do what we can."

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