The amphitheater at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial, off Louisiana SE, is normally full on Memorial Day with as many as 2,000 people with a flag procession and patriotic music to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
It will be empty this year on the holiday Monday, with perhaps a few people and a roadrunner family milling about the park because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The threat of coronavirus forced the cancellation of the annual ceremony.
“A big part of our constituency here is vulnerable to the virus,” said Bernie Lambe, who is president of both the New Mexico United Veterans Council and the New Mexico Veterans Memorial Foundation. “We want to ensure the safety of the veterans who would have attended. We determined it wasn’t worth the risk of anybody’s life.”
Lambe said the decision was made before Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham extended the public health order against gatherings of more than five until at least early June. He said a decision was made after a virtual meeting in early May with both groups he leads.
“We’ve been working on this event for five months,” he said. “… Kirtland (Air Force Base) and the New Mexico National Guard were both on board to help out, but who knows,” noting that both could have been called away for missions concerning the pandemic.
Other alternatives were explored, including having a virtual ceremony.
“Even if a virtual ceremony was out here being filmed, we couldn’t guarantee really dedicated people wouldn’t try to sneak in to see it in person,” he said. “I didn’t want to have an issue of having to eject people.”
The memorial park remains open to the public, although the museum at the memorial is closed.
Lambe said the veterans council and memorial foundation have been focusing instead on supporting projects that are helping veterans and their families through the pandemic, including shopping for veterans who can’t go out because of the virus and a veterans hospice program involving airmen from Kirtland.
Other activities are being considered to honor those who served as restrictions are being lifted, including showing patriotic movies with a drive-in format in the parking lot of the memorial. He said having an event on the Fourth of July has been considered, but there are concerns about fireworks having an effect on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lambe said other activities could be planned as a buildup to the Veterans Day ceremony held at the memorial amphitheater in November.