Americans unmask, gather, remember over Memorial Day weekend as sense of normalcy returns

Jocko Willink shares his Memorial Day message

Former Navy Seal Jocko Willink remembers fallen soldiers on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day Weekend services looked a bit different this year than they did in 2020 as Americans — more than half of which have received the COVID-19 vaccine — gathered to remember fallen heroes.

President Biden attended a memorial service in Delaware on Sunday as he remembered his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the Iraq War and died of brain cancer on May 30, 2015.

“We’re honored, but it’s a tough day, brings back everything,” Biden said in a Sunday speech. “So, I can’t thank you enough for your continued service to the country and your sons, your daughters, they live on in your hearts and in their children, as well.”

He then addressed the nation on Monday with a Memorial Day address at Arlington Cemetery.

President Joe Biden speaks during the National Memorial Day Observance at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, May 31, 2021, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“We’re the children of sacrifice made by a long line of American service members – each a link in that chain of honor,” Biden said during his speech. “… We are free because they were brave.”

Former President Trump also remembered fallen soldiers in a Memorial Day statement.

“On this Memorial Day, we remember the fallen heroes who took their last breaths in defense of our Nation, our families, our citizens, and our sacred freedoms,” Trump said. “The depth of their devotion, the steel of their resolve, and the purity of their patriotism has no equal in human history.”

Former President Obama issued a Memorial Day statement to social media, saying, “This Memorial Day, let’s remember the men and women who sacrificed everything for the people they served with and the country they loved. We owe them all an enormous debt of gratitude.”

Former President Bush attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Former President George W. Bush thanks members of the American Legion Post 159 firing squad after a Memorial Day service in Kennebunkport, Maine, Monday, May 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Everyday Americans, too, remembered those who sacrificed their lives for the country with local services and events across the country over the weekend and on Monday.

In Washington, D.C., tourists visited memorials remembering those who fought in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam and Korea. Many left flowers and other mementos at memorial sites as the weather cleared on Monday to remember family and friends who died in the name of democracy.

Motorcyclists rolled into the District on Sunday to remember prisoners of war, service members missing in action and veterans who died by suicide during American Vets’ “Rolling to Remember” event on Sunday.

The National Memorial Day Parade, which traditionally takes place in downtown D.C., will be broadcast on local TV stations this year, though spectators will not be allowed to attend the event in person. 

Army Spc. Joseph Wolfe reads the names of the fallen soldiers at Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the National Mall ahead of Memorial Day, in Washington, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

In the Northeast, rain and chilly temperatures kept many indoors, but people were still able to observe the holiday from afar.

The Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade, which is traditionally the largest Memorial Day parade in the country and takes place in Queens, New York, held a virtual service and wreath-laying service via Zoom on Monday morning.

In Boston, scores of veterans and volunteers placed more than 37,000 small flags on the downtown Boston Common — a sea of red, white and blue meant to symbolize all the Massachusetts soldiers killed in battle since the Revolutionary War. The annual tradition returned in full this year after being significantly scaled back in 2020 because of the pandemic.

A volunteer walks through a field of American flags planted on Boston Common Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

“This Memorial Day almost has a different, better feeling to it,” said Craig DeOld, a 50-year-old retired captain in the Army Reserve, as he took a moment from his flag duties at the Fairview Cemetery earlier this week. “We’re breathing a sigh of relief that we’ve overcome another struggle, but we’re also now able to return to what this holiday is all about — remembering our fallen comrades.”

While some towns and cities live-streamed Memorial Day parades without spectators due to COVID-19, other locales returned to their age-old, in-person traditions or started new ones.

Beachgoers gather in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach, S.C., Saturday, May 29, 2021. (Jason Lee/The Sun News via AP)

Out West and in the South, where weather conditions were more ideal, people headed to the beach in droves.

In Kansas City, Missouri, spectators on Sunday watched hot air balloons take to the skies at the National World War I Museum and Memorial’s first-ever “Great Balloon Glow.”

People watch hot air balloons during a balloon glow as part of Memorial Day weekend activities on the grounds of the National World War I Museum and Memorial Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Foodies across the country are starting to return to their pre-pandemic habits, according to data from restaurant reservation service OpenTable.

During the week ending May 30, the number of “seated diners,” including walk-ins and those with reservations, was down just 12% compared to 2019. Comparatively, in 2020, the number of seated diners was down 85% over the same week compared to 2019.

A person takes a photo, Sunday, May 30, 2021, of an illuminated sign on Chicago’s Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower displaying "Some Gave All" in honor of Memorial Day. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

But despite reopenings and booming demand for in-person activities, the image of Memorial Day weekend was not so rosy in some cities grappling with high crime rates.

Baltimore and Chicago were rocked by violence over the long weekend, according to local reports. 

The Baltimore Police Department counted 15 shooting victims between Friday and Monday, according to Fox 45 Baltimore. In Chicago, 28 people were shot, including two fatally, over the weekend, Fox 32 Chicago reported.

Police in major cities across the U.S. ramped up enforcement efforts ahead of the holiday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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