Honoring those who served in the military looked a little different at Pittsburg State University this year due to CDC stay-at-home orders and recommendations for social distancing. On Monday, May 25, the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the PSU Veterans Memorial was reimagined into a virtual ceremony which was aired on several different platforms, so viewers could watch and pay their respects.
The university typically holds a large Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial, located at 1909 S. Rouse, in Pittsburg.
Jon Bartlow , PSU Veterans Memorial Advisory Committee Chair, said as the COVID virus began to spread it became evident that the traditional ceremony would not be possible.
“The veterans memorial is an important part of the Pittsburg State campus and our being able to have ceremonies for veterans and Memorial Day are something that has really become part of our culture at the university,” Bartlow said. “So as soon as COVID ramped up, I think we saw the writing on the wall—that it would not be smart, whether it was legal at the time or not, it would not be smart to have a large amount of people on campus.”
Bartlow said this was their best attempt to not let the day go by unrecognized.
“We knew we needed to recognize Memorial Day, we just weren’t exactly sure how we were going to do it,” Bartlow said.
The ceremony included everything it would have normally—the history behind Memorial Day, the fallen comrade table, and the traditional acknowledgment and installation of new pavers.
PSU ROTC Cadet Esperanza S. Deterding served as the emcee, while Cadet Logan Williams offered the invocation and the benediction. Girard seventh grader Orin Weiss, who recently placed with distinction in the World Online Piping & Drumming Championships Competition, was featured playing “Amazing Grace.” The National Anthem was performed by Pittsburg High School senior Addy Campbell, who is an incoming freshman at PSU, and the traditional “Taps” was played by Ashley Hodges, a junior trumpet major at PSU.
The keynote speaker was Anthony “Tony” Perez, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Perez spent 22 years in service during the Vietnam War era, stationed on numerous bases across the United States, and he also did two tours in Thailand. Perez said it is important to take special time to remember.
“I did some research on Kansas and on that wall,” Perez said. “There’s over 635 names of people from Kansas that died in Vietnam, and five in Crawford County…That brought it right down to home—they were neighbors, they were friends. I think it’s important to remember people and it’s a special day to do that remembrance.”
Perez said even though the virtual ceremony was a different kind of experience, the meaning behind it was still the same.
“It gives more people the opportunity to view the ceremony again because of the weather and the virus,” Perez said. “…but then also, on Memorial Day, people like to stay home, enjoy a family BBQ, or just relax, and to have it available for everyone to watch again I think was a real positive thing.”
The virtual ceremony reached an even larger audience online than it usually does for the event at the memorial site. There were more than 900 views of the ceremony from people all across the United States.
“It gave us an opportunity to try something different, and so I think that’s the silver lining to a lot of what’s going on with COVID-19,” said Bartlow. “…when you’re forced to do things, sometimes you can discover ways to be more creative.”
The PSU Veterans Memorial was dedicated with a ceremony on Memorial Day 2004, making this the 16th annual ceremony. It features a half-sized replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and a kiosk and directory to help visitors locate names.
Anyone interested can watch the video at youtube.com/pittsburgstate, and at facebook.com/PSUVeteransMemorial.