OCEANSIDE — In the midst of COVID-19, veterans, active-duty soldiers and their families honored the sacrifices of American troops while following social distancing guidelines from the safety of their vehicles during a “rolling salute” on Memorial Day at the Oceanside Municipal Airport.
The mobile event, presented by Patriot’s Voice Foundation and Power of One Foundation, was one of a few Memorial Day ceremonies in San Diego County allowing spectators and visitors of any kind.
Four iconic San Diego locations, including Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Miramar Cemetery, Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial and the USS Midway Museum, streamed live virtual commemorations due to restrictions on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
In Oceanside, the rolling tribute was hosted by Emmy-nominated actor Jack Scalia and featured guest speaker Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) and live music by musician Jeff Senour — all of which was broadcast through car radios.
A “missing man” table was set up near the stage, honoring the lives of POW and MIA soldiers.
Gretchen Heffler, a member of Bugles Across America, played taps several times and singer Sabrina Von Bogenberg performed the national anthem.
A caravan of vehicles, many adorned with American flags, circled the airport parking lot while stopping at four stations where volunteers, including members of Veterans Association of North County (VANC) and Team Rubicon, provided 100,000 pounds of food to approximately 2,107 military members and their families. Volunteers also delivered boxes of food to disabled veterans unable to attend the event.
VANC President and veteran Chuck Atkinson remarked how Coronavirus fundamentally changed 2020 Memorial Day commemorations.
“Normally, groups like the Boy Scouts are allowed to place flags on the gravestones in military cemeteries but this year they’re not,” Atkinson said. “We can still honor their service and sacrifice but things are just different this year.”
Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss addressed families and volunteers thanking them for their service and sacrifice before singing and playing his guitar.
Retired Army Sgt. Kevin Kothlow, who is also a Team Rubicon administrator for Southern California, organized and led volunteers delivering food.
“We’re honored to ask bed to help out,” Kothlow said. “We are typically a disaster response organization but with [coronavirus] happening we’ve been helping out with food banks, however we can.”
“This operation is amazing not only because are we helping families get the food they need but we’re also filling that sense of tradition in being able to honor those that have fallen,” Kothlow said.
This Memorial Day will be remembered for not only changes in schedule and tradition, but also a dangerous increase in health risks for veterans.
According to the CDC, during the height of coronavirus infections in the U.S., individuals over the age of 65 made up over 81% of provisional death counts.
Veterans of the Vietnam, Korean, and WWII wars have a statistically higher chance of having co-morbidities associated with fatal coronavirus cases, such as heart and kidney disease and various cancers due to exposure of toxic substances during their military service.
Furthermore, there is a mounting pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the risks of COVID-19 facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with compromised respiratory systems due to their exposure to toxic burn pits.
Despite the fog of coronavirus, Atkinson reiterated the importance to holding onto whatever pieces of tradition remain possible.
“This is a day that everybody should remember,” Atkinson said. “Those who have lost their lives for this country and the freedoms of everyone in it should be honored no matter what.”
Each month VANC hosts a food drive for all active-duty and veterans families. Any person interested in registering or volunteering for the event can visit their webpage at https://www.vanc.me.