FLORENCE, S.C. — Two of the larger civic events in Florence are now casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic — the flagging of Florence National Cemetery and the following Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery.

The cemetery on Wednesday conducted its Memorial Day ceremony quietly, privately and solemnly — all in keeping with directives associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flag placement, which would have taken place Saturday, is well attended by Scouts, motorcycle clubs and individuals who combine to place a small American flag before each marker and get the entire cemetery flagged in about 45 minutes.

For their efforts the volunteers are treated to burgers hot off the grill, chips, drink and fellowship.

"It broke out hearts, especially flag placement," said Carolyn Howard, cemetery director, of the cancellation.

Howard said she wanted to thank all the cemetery's supporters — individuals and civic groups.

"I don't' want to risk anybody's life," she said. "When this is over we'll have other events. We are very grateful for our support."

"The VA that runs the cemeteries directed the directors of each cemetery to have a small, nonpublic gathering and to forgo the large Memorial Day service," said Col. (RET) Barry Wingard, who conducted Wednesday's wreath- placing ceremony.

It was attended by the national cemetery staff and one reporter to document it — in stark contrast to the hundreds who traditionally gather to listen to a keynote speaker and to remember those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

"It's being done as we represent the hundreds of people who have been coming here," Wingard said during the brief ceremony that was started early under the threat of rain.

"The National Cemetery, Carolyn, y'all and the entire staff, put forth such great effort to honor our deceased so well. You do it Memorial Day, Christmas wreath laying and flag placement, you do it every day. We appreciate it," Wingard said in the brief ceremony.

"Our group today is small but we are paying tribute to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marine, coast guard, merchant marine men and women who have died while serving their country," Wingard said. "Remember this nation is great because of the ones we're honoring today."

"I'm flattered to be here today to participate in this wreath- laying ceremony," Wingard said. "It was small but we represented the entire community that comes out."

Wingard said the decisions surrounding Memorial Day shows that the VA is sensitive to the situation and the people who would have turned out.

"The fact the ceremony was canceled tells me some people in the DC area who make these decisions understand that a lot of people who would want to be here would be reluctant to because of health concerns," Wingard said. "A lot of people who come out here fit the category of secondary health issues and a lot of them are my age, or older."

After Wednesday's brief ceremony the cemetery's carillon played taps out if its speakers.

On Monday, the carillion will play patriotic songs on and off throughout the day.

Digital Editor Matt Robertson is a veteran journalist who has fulfilled just about every role that a newspaper has and now serves as a key member of the Morning News' newsroom by maintaining SCNow.com and covering the occasional story and photo assignment.

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