Cliff Edwards usually wakes up at 5 a.m. every Memorial Day. It’s always his longest day of the year, he said.
Edwards has worked at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery for 47 years, he said, and Monday will mark only the second time he won’t be up early to start setting up for its annual Memorial Day ceremony.
The first time he missed it was because his oldest son was born the same day, he said. The second time will be because of the novel coronavirus.
Like cemeteries around the country, many Seattle area memorial parks are canceling their Memorial Day events to avoid spreading the virus, though they’re still urging the public to honor veterans independently.
In Edmonds, the cemetery’s annual program usually draws 300 to 500 people and welcomes a number of speakers, a color guard performance and rifle salutes, Edwards said. This year, the cemetery is skipping the program to avoid gathering large crowds per the state’s social-distancing measures.
Because he still wanted to show respect for fallen veterans on Monday, he and a handful of employees from the city’s parks department spent Friday placing about 650 white crosses and American flags at each veteran’s grave.
The cemetery, which has remained open as one of the state’s essential businesses, will be closed Monday.
“It’s kind of strange,” Edwards said. “Usually I’m the only one in the city that’s working on (Memorial Day).”
Seattle’s Evergreen Washelli Cemetery, usually filled with music, activities and community members on Memorial Day, is also scaling back its annual traditions to follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s distancing orders, said Taylor Ostman, the cemetery’s office manager.
“But we fly an Avenue of Flags every year, and those will still be up,” Ostman said.
Cemetery staff will raise about 50 full-sized flags Monday morning, leading from the entrance to the veterans section, she said. They’ll also place decorated buckets by each veteran’s headstone so family members and loved ones can leave flowers or flags.
The gates will remain open for anyone who wants to stop by and honor the thousands of veterans buried there, she said.
“People have come out every year for the past decade and it’s really meaningful to them, so we want to make sure they still have that opportunity,” she said. “We’re trying to keep some sense of normalcy.”
At Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, members of the Washington National Guard will attend a private ceremony Monday morning where they will lay a ceremonial wreath, fire a rifle salute and hold a moment of silence, said Assistant Director Jennifer Dehorty.
“No big ceremony like we normally do,” she said, adding the event usually brings out more than 1,000 people.
This year, the ceremony will be recorded and later shared on the cemetery’s social media pages.
“The cemetery is open every day for visitation,” Dehorty said. “So people are more than welcome to come out … Sunday as well, if Monday might be too hectic.”
Other cities, including Mill Creek and Renton, are hosting online Memorial Day ceremonies, but several cemeteries are canceling their events altogether.
At Acacia Memorial Park in Seattle, general manager Vince Larkin said the last thing he wants is for a ceremony to be a point of contagion.
“Folks are disappointed, as we all are at this point,” Larkin said. “We really wish life was different right now, but the reality is what our reality is … It’s important we gather, it’s important we remember, but it’s more important that we continue to be safe.”