PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. – Presented with the challenge of observing Memorial Day during the COVID-19 pandemic, Presidio of Monterey staff and volunteers rose to the occasion by refocusing traditional events for online audiences and personal reflection.
Instead of an in-person ceremony, PoM and Defense Language Institute leadership broadcast a virtual event from the PoM cemetery via social media. Each of the limited, on-site participants wore masks and maintained social distancing while delivering their remarks.
DLI Commandant, COL Gary Hausman shared their intent, saying, “Instead of parades or large memorial events we can remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in a more private way.”
Following the ceremony, a small group of volunteers adorned each of the nearly 400 graves with American Flags.
“I believe the small and somber ceremony conducted by DLI, and our small group that placed the flags on the gravestones … will honor those that have given the ultimate sacrifice while ensuring continuity of operations of those left to stand the watch,” said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Londers.
The PoM cemetery in its current location dates back to 1904 when Pvt. George S. Johnson, a Buffalo Soldier, became the first person interred. Since that initial burial, the small cemetery has reached full capacity as the final resting place for generations of veterans and their families. Each headstone tells the story of a service member laying down their life in service to the nation.
“My best friend, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Mogensen was killed in action on 29 May 2004 in Kandahar, Afghanistan,” said Londers. “His daughter was just a few months old and never knew her father, who was a great man. I wear his name and information on a black bracelet that I wear every day. It reminds me of why I chose this profession and why I continue to serve this great nation.”
In addition to the PoM Cemetery site, since 2007 the command has also been responsible for the Benicia Army Cemetery, a sub-installation north of San Francisco. The Benicia Historical Society usually coordinates a large Memorial Day observance attended by hundreds of people including veterans, scout troops and local politicians.
Laura Prishmont-Quimby, PoM Cultural Resources Program Manager, took charge of this year’s effort by planting all 206 flags with her 14 year old son, saying it was a “once in a lifetime chance for he and I.”
While large-scale events did not take place, loved ones were able to visit the graves of their family members. Among the visitors was Gwyn De Amaral, a Gold Star family member whose relatives have called the Presidio home for generations. His great grandparents and great aunt are buried in the PoM cemetery, and his father has an additional memorial dedicated in his honor. During Memorial Day weekend, De Amaral, a civilian, was the first recipient of the new Installation Access Card which provides unescorted on-base access to eligible surviving family members whose loved ones gave their lives in defense of the nation.
“To have access to come home to the base and see where my father was a part of,” said De Amaral, “It’s an honor and real privilege.”
Reflecting on the importance of celebrating the memories of our fallen heroes, Hausman said, “Memorial Day is a day of national awareness and solemn reverence -- a day for us to honor the military men and women who gave their lives in defense in of our nation, our freedoms, and liberties.”