Parade organizers find other ways to honor Memorial Day

James Neiss/staff photographerThe Niagara Falls Community Memorial Day Parade and its partners secured funding for flags down Pine Avenue to honor our veterans and show unity in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic this Memorial Day. Due to restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic, there will be no 2020 Memorial Day parade in the Falls.

As Memorial Day 2020 draws near, Falls City Council Member Kenny Tompkins doesn't know what to do with his time.

"Today, I'd be running around, trying to finish things up (for the city's annual Memorial Day parade)," Tompkins said Friday afternoon.

But because of restrictions imposed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, there will be no 2020 Memorial Day parade in the Falls.

"It's breaking my heart," said Tompkins, who several years ago saved the parade from being discontinued. "It's supposed to be a beautiful day (on Saturday) and we should be having a parade." 

Concerns for public health and safety, including the need for social distancing, have resulted in Pine Avenue being festooned with American flags rather than large crowds watching marching bands and veterans.

"This year, more than ever, we needed the flags," Tomkins said.

And with marching out of the question, Tompkins said he'll honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice another way.

"We found out that the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), who always place flags at the cemeteries, couldn't do that this year because they can't gather as a group," Tompkins said. "So tomorrow (Saturday), at 10 a.m., we're gonna pick up the flags from the VFWs and some volunteers and I will go out and place the flags."

With 3,000 flags to place, Tompkins may face a bigger challenge than keeping dance teams and marching bands in order.

"We really appreciate what Kenny is doing," said Tim Baxter, from Oakwood Cemetery. "(Memorial Day) is one of our biggest days to honor and remember our veterans.'

Baxter said that, since 2010, Oakwood has held a Memorial Day ceremony that also includes the tolling of a bell for everyone buried there in the intervening year. The need to avoid large groups and social distance means, for the first time in a decade, that won't take place.

"It's disappointing, but it's for everyone's safety," Baxter said.

Still, with better weather arriving, Baxter said visitors to the cemetery have increased in recent days. And, he said, anyone is welcome to visit on Memorial Day.

"There's been a notable increase with the local reopening and the nicer weather, we've had people stopping by," Baxter said. "And the cemetery is a great place to social distance. We have 18 acres."

Mayor Robert Restaino said he understands that many people will want to get out over the Memorial Day weekend and he encourages it.

"But it's still important to follow (the coronavirus) guidelines, so that we don't fall back" he said. "In the reopening, we go forward based on testing and hospitalizations.

The mayor said that projections show that when only 40 percent of people use face coverings, up to 200 COVID hospitalizations can result. When face coverings are at 70 percent, the number of hospitalizations drops to 50.

"The numbers prove (face coverings) work (to stem the virus transmission)," Restaino said. "(Not wearing a mask), you could put the entire economy back at risk. The fact someone else isn't playing by the rules doesn't mean they're aren't rules."

And while the rules cost the city its Memorial Day parade, Tompkins is looking forward to next year's march.

"This pains me," Tompkins said. "This is a labor of love. When you see the veterans lining (Pine Avenue), that's special. Take a moment and remember what Memorial Day is all about. It's to remember those who gave their lives. If it wasn't for those people, who gave everything, you might not be able to pop that beer or flip that burger."

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