This will be a Memorial Day unlike any other.
The parades have been canceled — from those inspiring small-town events that have always brought communities together to the national parade down Constitution Avenue in Washington. No high school marching bands. No contingents of veterans from wars and conflicts of years past. No honor guards. No kids on the sidelines waving tiny flags.
And for the first time in a decade there may be no field of flags on the hillside of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common. The Flag Garden, arranged by countless volunteers, and organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, has been a way to honor the more than 37,000 Massachusetts soldiers who gave their lives for their country in wars dating back to the Revolutionary War.
This year so much has fallen victim to a virus that is wreaking havoc on our traditions — traditions that have brought comfort to those whose losses are still very new and very painful, traditions that allow a new generation to glimpse the meaning of sacrifice, the human cost of war.
But there are some traditions even a virus can’t destroy: the cemetery visits, the quiet laying of a wreath, the planting of a flag on hallowed ground.
Sadly today there are too many fresh graves of Massachusetts military veterans who fought bravely, who should have ended their days surrounded by friends and family, cared for and honored. Instead, many of those at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home died alone; at last count, the death toll stood at 88, at least 77 of those confirmed COVID-19 victims. Another 77 veterans and 84 staff at the facility have tested positive for the disease.
Three investigations are pending, including one by the US Attorney’s office. The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, also reportedly under investigation, has reported at least 25 COVID-related deaths in recent weeks.
On this Memorial Day it is only fitting to pledge that those deaths will not go unexplained, that any wrongdoing that led to those deaths will not go unpunished. It is the least this community owes those who have served their country.
And perhaps this Memorial Day that is like no other will bring us back to basics. This holiday, which began as a remembrance of those who died during the Civil War, had long ago morphed into the nation’s official start of summer, a time of backyard barbecues and pool parties. Its red, white, and blueness was simply another party theme, its true meaning lost in the warmth of a sunny afternoon.
Except, of course, for those who spend the time visiting the graves of loved ones in Bourne or walking among the more than 400,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery or running a hand over a name etched into the Vietnam War Memorial. And then there are those of more recent wars, whose loss still leaves gaping holes in the lives of the families they left behind and in the hearts of those who loved them.
Today from our virtual worlds we can honor them too. The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund suggests a Virtual Flag Garden: a flag graphic in the window or a small flag on the front lawn. Or how about a “thank you for your service” to those among us who have worn the uniform.
But President Truman said it best in these words now etched on a wall at the American Cemetery in Normandy: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
Today is a day to renew that promise and “never forget.”
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.