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Harrisburg postpones Memorial Day ceremony

By Travis DeNeal
Posted on 5/20/2020, 3:27 PM

HARRISBURG -- Harrisburg Mayor John McPeek said the city has postponed its annual Memorial Day ceremony after receiving a letter critical of the plan from the state.

"Basically, we received what I would call a rudely worded letter from the state saying 'We can't believe you're planning this,'" McPeek said. "We're going to postpone the ceremony to a later date."

Originally, the ceremony was going to feature retiring U.S. Rep. John Shimkus as the keynote speaker.

Social distancing measures, such as staying six feet from others and wearing a face mask had been planned. Though the ceremony involves several local organizations, many of those organizations had planned to have minimal representation as a safety precaution.

The ceremony also was going to be a sort of official "unveiling" of the city's revamped veterans memorial at Sunset Lawn cemetery. For the past few weeks, the city had worked to replace the old wooden crosses and increase the number to reflect the number of Saline County residents who have died while serving their country in the armed forces.

"It's disappointing, for sure, but this is what we're going to do for now," McPeek said.

Cemetery sexton, or manager, Jacob Palmer, said the optics of the state possibly punishing those in attendance sends a mixed message.

"I'm not sure why it's OK to have 100 or more people in a store like Walmart and that's safe, but having a ceremony to honor our veterans who gave their lives to protect our freedom is not," Palmer said. "It's outdoors and there's plenty of room for people to stay a safe difference from each other. There is going to be a lot of people visiting cemeteries this weekend already."

Korean War veteran Don Cooper, who has played a large volunteer role in the city's remodel of the veterans memorial and has been involved with the memorial for many years, said while he'd prefer to see a ceremony on Memorial Day, he's still looking forward to a later ceremony.

"We'll still have a ceremony to honor our veterans," Cooper said. "It may just have to be a little later."