Memorial Day ceremony to resume at Veterans Center

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

Like he has done annually for over 20 years, Wesley Hull was contemplating a Memorial Day ceremony weeks ago. At one point earlier this month, with vaccines rolling out and public heath recommendations lifted, he decided to sit down and write a few words even though he had not been given a green light by the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Ardmore to have a ceremony. 

A memorial flame burns outside the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Ardmore Thursday, May 20, 2021. A Memorial Day ceremony will return to the center on Friday, May 28 after it was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I thought they may open up because the numbers keep going down, but it’s going to be very short notice for us to get anything together,” Hull recalled on Thursday. “I’m sitting at my computer at home writing a Memorial Day speech. The telephone rings and I said ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’” 

The retired rear admiral for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – one of eight uniformed services of the United States that includes the U.S. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps and the newly created U.S. Space Force – was given less than a month to organize a ceremony that often includes a keynote speaker, bands and performers, and hundreds of guests. 

This year’s event, set for Friday, May 28, will not include live music and guests will mostly include local veterans and Veterans Center employees. Attendees are expected to arrive beginning at 10:30 a.m. with the Patriot Guard Riders beginning the ceremony around 10:45 a.m. Those in attendance for the outdoor event will still be asked to practice social distancing and wear face masks to protect residents. 

The scaled-back event this year is an important marker considering the toll COVID-19 has taken on aging veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday, 12,046 patients across the country and 153 in Oklahoma tested positive for the disease at the time of death. 

One event that will obviously continue for this year’s Memorial Day ceremony is the reading of local veterans who died in 2020. Because of the pandemic, Hull expects the bell to toll more this year than in years past.  

“It’ll probably be a little longer due to COVID,” he said. 

Amy Sprouse, administrator for the Veterans Center in Ardmore, said that residents have been anxious to resume events like the upcoming Memorial Day event. Residents at the center have already resumed some normal activities, including personal errands off the center’s campus, but many visitor restrictions are still in place. 

“For the longest, they weren't able to leave these grounds unless it was for a medical reason but now they’re able to do that,” she said. 

She said the decisions to resume activities and events at the Ardmore center depend on multiple factors both in the community and within the center. 

“We look at different things. We look at the positivity rate in the county which tells us how prevalent the virus is,” Sprouse said. “We also have to take into consideration if we have anybody here, whether it be an employee or a resident, that’s positive.” 

The 2021 Memorial Day program is sponsored by the Carter County Veterans Council. According to Hull, the group is made up of representatives from various military organizations across the county, including posts of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.