Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest, tosses a wreath from the USS Midway into San Diego Bay.
Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest, tosses a wreath from the USS Midway into San Diego Bay. Photo by Chris Stone

Coronavirus has changed much about how Memorial Day was observed this year. But civic and military leaders at morning ceremonies asserted that the city’s devotion to fallen military members is unwavering.

“It’s not about the audience. It’s not about the pomp and circumstance. It’s about what’s in your heart and honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest, after the ceremony aboard the USS Midway.

For the first time, commemorations on Memorial Day at the USS Midway, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Miramar National Cemetery and Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial didn’t include thousands of families and friends of military who have lost their lives.

Instead of hour-long ceremonies at each venue, the sites presented the San Diego Memorial Day Virtual Simulcast Commemoration via Facebook Live. Each site had a 15-minute tribute.

Speakers at the four sites included Bolivar; San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, Brig. Gen. Ryan Heritage, commanding general, Marine Corps Recruit Depot; Neil O’Connell, president, Mt. Soledad Memorial Association; Jared Howard, director, Fort Rosecrans and Miramar National Cemeteries; and Robert S. Brewer, Jr., U.S. attorney for San Diego.

The simulcast was the brainchild of the head of Mt. Soledad.

Within 30 days, the sites collaborated to honor the military in an unprecedented way, according to David Koontz, marketing director for the USS Midway Museum.

The public wasn’t invited to the commemorations. The parking area in front of Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery was full and cars streamed down Cabrillo Memorial Drive as people arrived with flowers for their loved one’s graves.

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“During conflicts thorough the world, the men and women, who so bravely risked their lives in the defense of our freedom will never be forgotten as long as we continue to speak of them and the contribution they made to our great nation,” Bolivar said.

Referring to the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the rear admiral said it is important to remember the veterans of the Greatest Generation and their willingness to “bear the burden of war.”

Although the fallen are no longer alive, “their spirits will live forever in the hearts of the families, friends and comrades,” Bolivar said.

She added, “Know that the fallen are not truly lost. Every year on this special day, they live again.”

Police Chief Nisleit commended his own officers, first responders, doctors, nurses, grocery workers and food bank personnel.

“We’ve all had our lives changed by this worldwide medical crisis,” he said. “One thing this pandemic will not change is the support our communities have for one another. Our communities are filled with great people who choose to put others before themselves.”

Noting the significant changes brought on by COVID 19, the police chief said the circumstances “will not prevent us from recognizing what so many brave men and women did for our country.”

Nisleit concluded: “Even though Memorial Day is once a year, I would ask you to always remember and honor our military heroes who gave their lives so that we can live ours.”

Flags were placed on some tombstones and markers at Fort Rosecrans Cemetery on Memorial Day. Photo by Chris Stone

The coronavirus didn’t allow for crowds, traditional flag placement on all of the gravesites or bands. A low cloud ceiling prevented planned flyovers.

However, Koontz said the virtual presentation allowed them to reach more people.

“It’s a tremendous, uplifting, inspiring moment that we have been able to bring this commemoration to so many people,” he said.