PARMA, Ohio — Tony Kessler is a six year navy veteran who is now battling cancer.
“This is the day that we show our respect and honor those who have given their lives to protect our freedom,” Kessler said. “Sometimes I feel almost guilty like 'Why am I here and they’re not?'”
Still, as commander of American Legion Post 572, he’s determined to carry on one of Parma’s oldest Memorial Day traditions.
“I love what I’m doing, I’m very passionate about what I’m doing,” he said. “The veteran’s organizations are the ones that are keeping these kind of things alive and I think it’s important for the youth to understand what our heroes have done for us and what they meant to where we’re at today.”
But the events won’t be the same this year.
“We haven’t really advertised it this year like we normally would do. In fact, everybody knows it’s canceled basically. The original form of the ceremony is canceled,” Kessler explained.
To ensure the public’s safety against COVID-19, Mayor Tim DeGeeter recommended the noon memorial service be shortened, though, other city events were canceled entirely.
“No speeches, no gatherings and [we’ll] just do a raising of the flags do playing of the taps and 21-gun salute,” DeGeeter said.
DeGeeter is urging those who attend to watch from their cars at Veterans Memorial Park to help with social distancing.
“There’s no chapter in the manual for all of this so it’s mayors across Ohio making difficult choices, trying to try to comply, but then also trying to be able to be creative to do stuff so there is some sense of normalcy,” DeGeeter said. “We believe it would be a positive and seeing if people could still comply with stuff and then if we can do more stuff throughout the year we’ll see what happens.”
It’s not ideal, but Kessler is choosing to focus on what’s important by honoring those protected and served like him.
“I feel proud that I’m here to be able to honor them,” he said.
And though it’s his last year as commander, he doesn’t plan on letting this tradition go.