More than 100 people gathered in Carlton’s Hillside Cemetery to watch the honor guard's tribute to U.S. war dead Monday, May 25.
The ceremony — the Carlton Honor Guard’s eighth of the day — typically draws a large crowd to the cemetery. This year, however, the size of the crowd was a little smaller at each of the stops in Cromwell, Barnum and Holyoke, among others.
While most attendees clustered together with family members, several took the opportunity to hug or shake hands with friends.
Rain clouds threatening to douse the crowd held off until after the ceremony, but it wasn’t rain that dampened the crowd numbers in Carlton.
While many other Memorial Day activities in the area were canceled or modified because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carlton VFW Post 2962 Vice Commander Mike LaFave said there was “no question” whether the honor guard would make their annual tour of Carlton County cemeteries.
“This is not for us — this is for our fallen comrades,” LaFave said.
The school bus the group typically takes from the Carlton VFW around the county wasn’t as crowded as past years. The bus was limited to 10 people and all were required to wear masks, Honor Guard Sergeant-at-Arms Russ Redetzke said.
“Not everyone took the bus. Some rode in their cars,” LaFave said. “All the folks on the bus had hand sanitizer and masks. We took all the precautions we could.”
After the ceremony ended, the crowd dispersed more quickly than usual. Most years, attendees spend time chatting. On Monday, however, a light drizzle sent people scrambling toward their cars.
Tim Smith, of Hermantown, also noted there were just a handful of children and teenagers at the ceremony. Most of the crowd consisted of older adults, and just a handful — including Smith and Redetzke — wore masks during or after the ceremony.
Smith, an Esko native who attends the ceremony every year, said the size of the crowd and lack of masks didn’t concern him. The outdoor environment provided plenty of room to keep his distance from the clusters of people.
“I thought they did a very good job, considering the situation,” Smith said. “I thought it was well taken care of and taken care of safely. It was a lot less crowded than Walmart.”