WATCH: Gold Star families gather for special Memorial Day commemoration amid coronavirus pandemic

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Monday, May 25, 2020
Gold Star families gather for special Memorial Day commemoration
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After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all the Memorial Day celebrations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gold Star families gathered at Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose for a special ceremony in honor of fallen service members.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Memorial Day won't be the same this year for Kevin Graves and his family because of the Bay Area ban on mass gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am still dealing with the fact that we won't be able to go to Golden Gate National Cemetery and we won't be having the usual services that we have and friends and family can't go visit my son," said Graves.

His son, Army Specialist Joseph Graves, was killed in July of 2006 when his unit was ambushed during an escort mission in Iraq.

"Memorial Day is the one day of the year that is designated specifically for honoring our fallen heroes," said Graves, who finds comfort in Memorial Day ceremonies.

Brig. Gen. Thomas Savage issues Memorial Day message to Gold Star families during COVID-19 pandemic. (courtesy U.S. Military)

Like Graves, many families are lamenting the cancellation of Memorial Day commemorations in the Bay Area this year.

While families will still be able to go to cemeteries to visit loved ones, organized events won't be happening this year to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus.

That bothered James Brown, so he decided to do something about it. Brown is the president of the Wine Country Marines, based in Sonoma. He started making calls and was able to organize a simulation of the typical Memorial Day ceremony at Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose. He reached out to ABC7 to record it so the public can watch it at on television at home.

RELATED: Bay Area residents react to first COVID-19 Memorial Day weekend

The ceremony included participants from all over the Bay Area. The color guard came from the Marine Corps recruiting station in San Francisco. The 21 gun salute was done by the 23rd Marine Corps Regiment from San Bruno. The band came from Travis Air Force Base and performed a medley of Armed Forces music while maintaining social distancing.

Kenneth and Carrie Estep were among several Gold Star families that took part in the recreation.

Their eldest son, Adam Wayne Estep, died in April of 2004 in Sadr City, Iraq during a battle now remembered as Black Sunday, in which eight U.S. service members were killed and more than 60 others were wounded. It was the largest one day casualty count for the U.S. military since Vietnam. Memorial Day has had a special significance for them since then.

"It means an opportunity to have our son recognized for the great sacrifice that he did," said Kenneth Estep. "It gives us as a nation a chance to commune together, to honor our veterans and to honor our family members."

Watch the video above to see the simulated ceremony of Memorial Day 2020. Watch the full version on our CTV apps.

See more stories and videos about Memorial Day here.

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