Pandemic forces cancellation of beloved Shirley Memorial Day festivities

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SHIRLEY – Patriotic events have been annual traditions here for decades. Veterans Day. Fourth of July. Memorial Day. The most solemn of the nation’s military-related holidays – Memorial Day – typically brings a crowd to Whiteley Park in the village, with a parade, guest speakers and marching bands.

Preceded by wreath-laying ceremonies in the morning at the town’s three cemeteries and war memorial sites, the day’s events typically wrap up with an informal gathering at the War Memorial Building.

But not this year.

The parade and the gatherings have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and state-wide rules and restrictions imposed by the governor.

Veterans Events Committee Chairman Norman Albert, who has been a driving force behind town funding for Memorial Day, said that his group decided a couple of weeks ago to cancel the parade and the public gatherings this year.

“There just wasn’t time” to pull things together, he said.

Albert notified the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Mike McGovern announced at a recent board meeting that Memorial Day events had been canceled.

Asked if he recalls any other year when Memorial Day events were called off, Albert told the Nashoba Valley Voice that this is the first time it’s happened during his tenure, which dates back 10 or 12 years.

The Legion, however, would still conduct wreath-laying ceremonies, he said.

American Legion Post #183 Commander Ed Warwick, Jr. confirmed that statement.

The legion will still conduct solemn wreath laying ceremonies at cemeteries and war memorial sites on May 25, honoring the town’s fallen war veterans, he said. But that’s the extent of this year’s calendar.

Citing statewide restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s orders, including six-foot social distancing, wearing masks in public and limits set for the size of public gatherings, Warwick said that planning around those parameters would be challenging this year.

Counting off the people participating in the wreath-laying ceremonies and traveling in separate vehicles, including the legion’s color guard and a police escort, he said adjustments were being made to meet distancing requirements, with assistance from Shirley Police Lt. Alfreda Cromwell.

But as a result the legion isn’t advertising its Memorial Day route this year, he said, and has not encouraged the public to attend the wreath-laying ceremonies.

That could change, however, depending on what the governor has to say on Monday, Warwick said.