DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced Operation Honor Guard in Vermilion County to cancel all ceremonies that pay tribute to veterans who have died. Members are feeling a mix of emotions as the time honored tradition has been put on hold.
The governor’s executive order has limited public gatherings, making it impossible for the honor guard to perform their ceremonies. That also includes canceling the annual Memorial Day ceremony that was scheduled to happen on Monday.
Veterans who have served our country are given a final salute when they die. “We take it very seriously and we’re honored to do it,” said Tom Morse. Members of Operation Honor Guard stand at the ready to pay tribute to these men and women. But this tradition has been banned for the time being.
“This year we were unable to do any sort of ceremony based on Governor Pritzker’s orders,” said Morse. He said the cemeteries and funeral homes have to put a stop to all public gatherings to follow the guidelines of the executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because of those restrictions, we haven’t been able to do any funerals since March 16th,” said Morse. In that time, they have not been able to attend about 70 funerals.
One of them would have been for Bernie Lewallen, a long-time Danville American Legion Post member of 50 years, a World War II veteran and the oldest member of their Honor Guard who died recently at 92 years old. “In all honest, we’re angry because we think the veterans should be honored regardless.” In Vermilion County, nothing has stopped the Operation Honor Guard doing this in the past. “We’ve done funerals in pouring rain, in snowstorms, in below zero and 100 degree temperatures, so this is completely unprecedented and none of us really know how to act,” said Morse. But the pandemic is not stopping the Georgetown American Legion from holding their Memorial Day ceremony.
“We have to do this. They deserve it. All those veterans who lay in that cemetery deserve it, everyone of them. It’s our way of saying thank you,'” said Ron Torbet. Post Commander Torbet said they will be following social distancing guidelines and gathering at the Georgetown Cemetery at 11 a.m. on Monday.
Even though their ceremonies have been canceled, the members of the Danville Legion Post 210 spent all day Wednesday putting up 400 flags on the grave sites at cemeteries across Vermilion County to pay respect.