Lakeside VFW enlists technology for virtual Memorial Day service

Photo by Jessica Brodkin Webb A wreath of flowers recognizing the VFW and VFW Auxiliary were staged outside the Lakeside post for a Memorial Day. See the story on page 3.

Veterans of Foreign Wars District One Senior Vice Commander and Lakeside Post Commander Paula Jansen watched as the American flag was hoisted to the top of the pole mounted in front of the building before being lashed down at half-staff on May 25 for Memorial Day.

photo by jessica brodkin webb
Paula Jansen (left) and Maria Jimenez listen for the sound of Taps played in the background of a Memorial Day video sent to VFW members across the district.

This year, with public facilities just beginning to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic, the moment was not watched by the hundreds of post members who usually gather in person for the somber occasion.

Instead, it was viewed at home in a video presentation that allowed members to preserve social distancing measures put in place by the county of San Diego in March to slow the spread of the pandemic.

“Normally our Memorial Day draws a couple hundred people but many of them are older and considered at risk. We didn’t want to expose anyone so we made a video that could be sent to all of our members,” Jansen said.

In the week leading up to Memorial Day, Jansen took video of the segments typically included each year at the service to commemorate those who lost their lives in service: an introduction by District One Commander Myles Fry, candles being lit to honor fallen heroes, flags being placed at local military gravesites, and taps being played to honor those who have passed.

Each portion of the service was filmed separately so participants did not come in contact with each other.

The individual segments were spliced together by Lakeside resident and VFW volunteer Sophia Gillenberg in a six-minute video that cohesively linked the unique parts of the memorial service with the American flag passed symbolically from one scene to the next to tie it all together.

“You know, we’ve managed to keep everything safe throughout all of this but Memorial Day is one of our most important events. It’s about remembering those we have lost and we had many discussions on how we want to do something but it just isn’t safe given how many members usually show up and the way our space is laid out,” Jansen said.

The post commander said she didn’t want any veteran or family member of a veteran to unknowingly show up at the post for the usual memorial service only to be turned away.

She and some other post leaders came up with the idea of making baked goods in the post kitchen, approved to remain open for takeout, and assembling small baskets to send home with anyone who came to the post for Memorial Day.

The post officers also decided to take action on a rock garden that had been discussed in the past. Volunteer Kevin Kurz prepped the area ahead of time and on Monday placed the inaugural painted rocks in memory of Howard Carter and Rowland Smith,

The local post is named and dedicated to the deceased service members, both of whom were from Lakeside and were killed in action during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

“We wanted to create something memorable, something lasting.  When all of this is over, we’ll put out a sign in the rock garden explaining what it is. This was just a start but it was the right day to do it because it is a day about remembering those we have lost” Jansen said.

In a follow up call Monday evening, the commander said it was unusual to have seen the building so quiet on what is usually a major event day at the post.

“This is normally a day when we see members who only turn up maybe twice a year, like on Memorial day and then again for Veterans day. It was sad because we didn’t get to connect with all those older members,” Jansen said.

However, she said the video with virtual events was emailed to all the members and posted on the website, with information on the short presentation also going out by phone tree.

“There is no way we could have abided by the County rules and done our usual ceremony. Even though we can’t all gather in person right now, I think when people see the video they will get the sense that we did something, that Memorial day has meaning and we were able to honor those who passed within what we can do right now.”