We are what we remember. Let’s remember our heroes.

For many, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. It’s a time when we gather together with family and friends at backyard barbecues, hit the road with our camping trailers to remote locations across Maine, or slip our boats into beautiful bodies of water.

More important, Memorial Day is also a somber time when Mainers come together to honor those who gave their lives in defense of our nation’s fundamental principles.

Unfortunately, this year’s Memorial Day commemorations will look very different than years past. There will be no parades honoring our fallen service members, no large public ceremonies memorializing the valor of our heroes, and no organized gatherings to place flags on the graves of the fallen.

Although we’ll be observing Memorial Day differently this year, it does not mean the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women are any less significant, nor those of the family members left behind. A state with one of the largest number of veterans per capita, Maine knows what it means to serve and sacrifice — 114,000 veterans live, work and recreate in Maine.

At the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, we have made it our mission to support our veterans in every manner possible, and we have worked tirelessly to appropriately honor their service. Traditionally, our bureau hosts two public ceremonies honoring Maine’s deceased veterans. Hosted at our Central Maine Veterans’ Cemeteries, hundreds of Mainers participate in our annual services to pay their respects to our heroes.


As a result of the unfortunate circumstances we find ourselves in, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel our formal community observance. While we cannot gather together this year, we encourage you to visit one of our four veterans’ cemeteries during the Memorial Day weekend.

Accessible touchstones of remembrance, our cemeteries are not only physical sites of memorialization but visible symbols of the cost of both conflict and freedom. A casual walk through the hallowed grounds of a veterans’ cemetery offers teachable moments about duty, honor, and courage, as well as lessons of fulfillment and selfless service to others.

Before raising their right hands, many of these men and women asked themselves, “If not me, then who?” They’ve made a difference. Their actions are admirable. And they should be remembered. If you cannot physically visit one of our four veterans’ cemeteries, there are countless other ways to recognize our veterans’ contributions, sacrifice and legacy.

Here are just a few examples:

On Sunday, May 24, PBS will be publicly broadcasting the “National Memorial Day Concert.” The concert will run on local public broadcasting channels across the country from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Serving as a night of remembrance, the broadcast will share stories of service from across the nation and highlight the sacrifices made by millions of Americans. To watch the National Memorial Day Concert, visit the PBS website at www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert.

Virtually touring our national war memorials is another great way to learn more about those who gave their lives in service. The following are virtual tours that are currently available: World War II Memorial (www.youvisit.com/tour/64156/80707), Korean War Memorial (www.defense.gov/Experience/Korean-War-Memorial), Vietnam War Memorial (www.vvmf.org/Virtual-Tour), and Arlington National Cemetery (www.arlingtontours.com/arlington-national-cemetery-map).


There will also be a National Moment of Remembrance on Monday, May 25, at 3 p.m. Since 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance has been an officially recognized event by both a congressional resolution and a presidential proclamation. The remembrance designates 3 p.m. (local time) every Memorial Day as an opportunity to pause in an act of national unity for one minute of silence.

The issue of a global pandemic has forced us to become isolated in many ways and although we may not be gathering as communities and family, we can remain united for a few minutes at 3 p.m.

The events and ideas listed above are not traditional nor are they ideal. There’s no doubt we’d all prefer to assemble as a community to show our utmost gratitude and gratefulness. Please use this time as a teachable moment for your kids, your neighbors, your friends, and to give back to your community. We urge you to reflect on the importance of this day — and to look around. We are what we remember. Let’s remember our heroes.

Melissa Willette is director of communications for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services in Augusta.

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