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How to observe Memorial Day and help military families as pandemic lingers

There are so many ways to show support and respect.
Modified military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery
An Old Guard Soldier wears a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while rendering honors at a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on April 14, 2020.Elizabeth Fraser / U.S. Army/Arlington National Cemetery via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

For families who have lost military loved ones in death, Memorial Day matters. It’s a time of year when they feel that all the sacrifices — and all the loss — are appreciated by others outside their immediate families.

Of course, the past year has been anything but normal for military families. Many large Memorial Day observances around the country had to be canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, though, restrictions are being relaxed and more big, public commemorations are possible. Here are some ways to observe Memorial Day in 2021 and also help grieving military families and veterans in need.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery will be open to the public this year from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. ET over Memorial Day weekend. Face masks must be worn in indoor venues, but they are no longer required when visitors are outdoors. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, and the Memorial Amphitheater Display Room and Welcome Center exhibits are all open to visitors this year.

For those who can't make the trek to Arlington National Cemetery in person, a virtual visit is possible. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier turns 100 in 2021, and the cemetery has launched a new virtual history exhibit about the tomb. Last year, the cemetery unveiled an online exhibit to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of its Memorial Amphitheater. The centennial exhibit allows people to explore Arlington’s grounds virtually. More online exhibits can be found here.

VA flag-placement and wreath-laying ceremonies

All 155 national cemeteries managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will be open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk, and mass flag placements will be allowed at the cemeteries to commemorate Memorial Day. Video footage and photographs of wreath-laying ceremonies at the Quantico, Baltimore, Hampton and other national cemeteries will be shared on the National Cemetery Administration's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Carry The Load

The Dallas-based group Carry The Load began a decade ago as a grassroots effort by two U.S. Navy SEAL veterans who felt that many people across the United States had forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day. The group’s Memorial May campaign features a 15,500-mile national relay and 70 city rallies that culminate with the Dallas Memorial March, a two-day rally over Memorial Day weekend on May 30 and 31.

Children participate in the Carry The Load Midwest Relay at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 22, 2021.
Children participate in the Carry The Load Midwest Relay at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 22, 2021.Courtesy of Carry The Load

Carry The Load also raises money to help military and first-responder families with counseling, suicide prevention, service dogs, job placement, home improvements, scholarships for children of the fallen, and other services. To help support such efforts, click here.

Veterans Legacy Memorial

The Veterans Legacy Memorial is an online database of the nearly 4 million service members and veterans interred in national cemeteries. Online visitors can leave written comments of tribute for any of those individuals.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

TAPS provides care and resources to anyone grieving the death of a military loved one. Much of that support happens at in-person events, including “Good Grief Camps” for children and TAPS’ national seminar over Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C. This year, seminar sessions also can be attended virtually.

Military family members who are struggling with grief or needing other support can contact the TAPS 24/7 National Military Survivor Helpline at (800) 959-TAPS (8277).

Gold Star Wives of America

Gold Star Wives of America is a congressionally chartered organization that helps widows and widowers who lost their spouses to military-related causes of death. To learn more about the help that’s available navigating benefits and finding support, click here.

American Gold Star Mothers

American Gold Star Mothers is an organization of moms whose sons or daughters died in the line of duty or as a result of injuries while on active duty. To learn more or support Gold Star Mothers, click here.

Patriot Guard Riders

Throughout the year, Patriot Guard Riders attend the funeral services of military service members, first responders and veterans. The group also helps military families and veterans through its “Help on the Homefront” programs. To help support such efforts, click here.