At Chestnut Grove Cemetery in the Town of Herndon for Memorial Day 2020, Michael Cutler, 2nd Vice Commander of The Wayne M. Kidwell American Legion Post 184 Herndon-Reston, adds a remembrance flag to the final resting place for Sgt. Wayne M. Kidwell, United States Army, killed in action during the Vietnam Conflict.
Photo by Mercia Hobson.
Michael Cutler is 2nd Vice Commander and Avenue of Flags coordinator at The Wayne M. Kidwell American Legion Post 184 Herndon-Reston. In preparation for Memorial Day Observances, he and others usually gathered at dawn at Chestnut Grove Cemetery in the Town of Herndon. In two-person teams, in all types of weather, Veterans and volunteers dropped poles into the ground. Then they raised the 64 casket flags in their care donated by families of interred veterans, creating an Avenue of Flags, a patriotic feature flanking the entrance into the cemetery: 2020 was different.
As the Memorial Day weekend prepared to kickoff, Fairfax County and adjacent jurisdictions ranked among the United States' highest regions for COVID-19 cases. "There's still significant virus circulating here," said White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx in a press briefing Friday afternoon, May 22.
According to Christine Cutler Post 184 Adjutant, the Town of Herndon canceled the annual Memorial Day Ceremony due to COVID-19 and associated restrictions in Northern Virginia. No guest speaker; no ROTC color guard; no laying of wreaths at the cemetery. The Northern Virginia region, including the Town of Herndon, remained under Governor Ralph Northam's stay-at-home restrictions, which he had rolled back for much of the state. "While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia," Northam said in a press release May 12.
Members of the Post 184 Avenue of Flags Committee took matters one step further. Not only would there be no Memorial Day Ceremony at the cemetery, but they also agreed not to raise the bold and proud display of 64 casket flags. "Raising and retiring the flags violates social distancing protocols,” wrote Christine Cutler in an email. In coordination with the manager at Chestnut Grove Cemetery, Michael Cutler of Post 184 received permission to place small American stick flags with name cards indicating the fallen soldier being honored at the cemetery. He did so where the Avenue of Flags typically lined the main entrance road.
A statement prepared by Avenue of Flags Committee of Post 184 and installed at Chestnut Grove Cemetery explained the change. "It is our intent that these Veterans be remembered in a small way rather than not honored at all.”
Updated Saturday, May 23, 2020, two days before Memorial Day 2020: COVID-19 Case Data for Fairfax Health District, Herndon ZIP code 20170 (Cases per 100,000 Persons): 1,102.3, 9th place in the District out of 48 ZIP Codes. Source: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/covid19/case-information.