Memorial Day observance at National Cemetery scaled down due to virus

City of Jacksonville is holding a virtual Memorial Day observance

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville is holding a virtual Memorial Day observance this year because of the coronavirus. City officials say it has already been recorded and will be posted to the city’s YouTube channel Monday morning.

The annual memorial day observance will also be held at the National Cemetery, but it too will be different because of COVID-19.

COVID-19 may have put the nation on pause. At the Jacksonville National Cemetery, remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice carries on.

Steven Spickelmier served in both the United States Navy and Air Force. Today, he is chairman of the cemetery’s support committee. He says due to virus precautions, the Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony will be, at most, 10 minutes long. Ten people will be in attendance, including Spickelmier.

“It is really sad because normally, we’d have a full program with full honors,” Spickelmier said. “We will be unable to do that this year.”

Family members can still visit their loved ones’ graves throughout the day, but large groups will not be allowed. Social distancing guidelines as administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will need to be followed.

"Out here at this cemetery, there are 5 KIAs [Killed in Action]," Spickelmier said. "With the last one being the gentleman who was brought back from Pearl [Harbor]. That was on the USS Oklahoma."

For Spickelmier, this holiday always feels personal. His father, Sgt. Marion H. Spickelmier died within days of Memorial Day in 1990.

"He's the one I told you before hit Normandy Beach in Omaha on V-Day," Spickelmier said. "It's very special to me. It reminds me every year when it comes around."

Banners depicting all military branches have been placed near the cemetery’s bell. Spickelmier says the flyover will start at Cecil Field. The pilots will then fly across the Jacksonville National Cemetery, before heading to the memorial wall in downtown Jacksonville. From there, they will head south to fly over the St. Augustine National Cemetery. Spickelmier tells News4Jax the pilots will likely be flying in two diamond formations, with another six planes following.

"It's going to be something very special," Spickelmier said. "This is a very special tribute.

The flyover is expected to begin around 11:50 a.m. Monday. Spickelmier predicts the planes will make it to the St. Augustine National Cemetery by 1 p.m.

In Nassau County, the Marine Corps League will host this year’s Fernandina Beach Memorial Day ceremony. The event will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at the Veterans Memorial Monument downtown. The city is asking anyone attending to wear masks and maintain proper social distancing.

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