Going Virtual on Memorial Day: Soldiers’ Home Looks to Recreate Exercises

It won’t be under a tent in Woodlawn Cemetery with hundreds gathered in solemn repose, but nonetheless the bell will toll to remember those veterans that have passed away this past year, and the ‘never’ in ‘Never Forget’ will be front and center for the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home as they remember Memorial Day in a time of pandemic.

The Soldiers’ Home has had a time-honored tradition of holding ceremonies in Woodlawn Cemetery on the Thursday before the holiday, celebrating in a part of the cemetery dedicated to their veterans.

This year, they’ll look to recreate that ceremony virtually and air the exercises online May 21, at 5 p.m. on the Home’s Facebook page.

“This Memorial Day observance is being held during one of the most difficult times in Soldiers’ Home history,” said Supt. Cheryl Poppe. “In addition to the veterans we have lost over the past year, we have been battling a fierce and invisible virus. Staying true to tradition, today we are recognizing and honoring all of our Veterans who passed away during the year, but in a slightly different way so that we can do so safely. We also mourn our present-day patriots from the recent conflicts who, alongside their counterparts from all conflicts past have paid the price for our freedom.”

Said Master of Ceremonies Tim Leazott, “Holding this virtual ceremony is one way the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home honors those who died in previous wars. Our thoughts remain with the Gold Star families, who know better than anybody what this day truly represents.” 

The virtual ceremony will feature segments filmed in various locations at the Soldiers’ Home and Woodlawn Cemetery, and is combined to encompass the typical ceremony. Chelsea High student Karen Maradiaga, Class of 2021, will sing the National Anthem, and in keeping with tradition, the name of every veteran who has passed away in the last 12 months will be read aloud with a bell tolled after each name.

Additionally, the American Flag and flagpole at the Soldiers’ Home will be lit gold the night before Memorial Day, as will many other flags, bridges, and buildings across the Commonwealth in remembrance of veterans who died in the line of duty and the Gold Star Families who survive them.

The ceremony will be broadcast on the Facebook page ( HYPERLINK “https://www.facebook.com/ChelseaSoldiersHome/” \t “_blank” https://www.facebook.com/ChelseaSoldiersHome/), but one does not need to have their own Facebook account to view the ceremony.

The Soldiers’ Home has been hit fairly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 12 weeks. There have been 38 veteran resident deaths (30 tested positive, 8 tested negative), and 36 veteran residents have tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 57 staff have tested positive for the virus, though 178 veteran residents have tested negative.

Chelsea Clinical Command continues to monitor and enforce staff use of PPE. Staff have been provided PPE core competency training, the entire facility is rounded on daily for infection control quality assurance checks, all units have been provided with educational materials, and there are daily cleanings throughout the facility in addition to frequent terminal cleaning. 

Veteran residents’ health is being monitored and retesting is being conducted for veterans both on- and off-site as clinically appropriate. As results are received, veteran residents are being cohorted and further monitored. Additional isolation space has been identified and is being readied.

Last week, the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home leadership and Board of Trustees accepted a generous donation from Brighton Marine of 175 iPads to help keep Veterans connected during the pandemic. These iPads will allow for additional video visits between veteran residents and their loved ones, which have been made with support from the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home Social Work team and staff. Families can request updates on their loved ones by contacting the Home at  HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” \t “_blank” [email protected] and through phone and video conversations. Medical information can only be shared with an authorized health care proxy.

Governor Charlie Baker has advised flags be lowered to half-staff until the end of the public health emergency at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, among other locations.

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