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A Memorial Day remembering the fallen and the coronavirus

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There were two waves of death the Long Beach VFW Post 1384 needed to observe on Memorial Day: those who died in America's wars, and those who died in its current pandemic crises.

A small group gathered outside the VFW Hall on West Park Avenue to memorialize those who died in the two world wars, Korea and Vietnam. And they did so with prayers, patriotic songs, speeches, a playing of taps and firing of guns. But speakers could not ignore the coronavirus, which has taken nearly 100,000 American lives in a mind-bending two months.

Dan McPhee, the Post's commander, who as a 21-year-old U.S. Marine was wounded in Vietnam, begged people to "keep safe" during the pandemic by wearing their masks. McPhee wore his, as did everyone else at the 30-minute ceremony.

"People fought to keep us safe," McPhee said. "We have to keep ourselves safe in their memory."

He noted that more Americans had died due to the coronavirus than in the Vietnam War, which killed 58,000 U.S. troops. McPhee also sounded a somber warning about the importance of Memorial Day.

"Dying for freedom is not the worst thing," McPhee said in a speech to the gathering of about 100 people. "But being forgotten is."

Alana Ayala, a retired Navy second-class petty officer who served in the Persian Gulf war, delivered a moving version of the National Anthem. Deacon Robert Reed of St. Ignatius Church, delivered an Invocation.

Long Beach City Council President John Bendo, a Navy veteran, signaled the difference between this Memorial Day and others in the past. "For many, this day signifies the beginning of summer," Bendo said. "It's a chance to throw hot dogs on the grill. But we must never forget the women and men who donned the uniform. We should never forget that the veterans died, but that they lived.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Beach Democrat, said this day may be different, but that, "We know we will emerge stronger and better."

Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford, who represents Long Beach, said she did not mean to "diminish" this Memorial Day. But she said it was important to remember those who died of the Covid-19 virus as well as "those who died thousands of miles away with no one to say goodbye."

Peggy Costigan asked the crowd to join her in a rendition of "God Bless America:" Taps was played. All in attendance bowed their heads.

Another Memorial Day ceremony had ended.