Great Falls’ Memorial Day tradition will carry on in a different way due to coronavirus

May 13, 2020

This year’s Memorial Day observance at the Montana Veterans Memorial in Great Falls will be conducted virtually for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Montana Veterans Memorial Association announced Wednesday that the group would conduct the May 25 ceremony as planned.

Residents can’t attend in person due to social distancing requirements.

But they can view the ceremony live on the Montana Veterans Memorial Facebook page or a a video at

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, which prevents large gatherings, it’s still important to honor the men and women, especially Montanans, who have died serving in the military, said retired Army Lt. Col. Richard Liebert, who will serve as master of ceremonies.

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“We want to make sure we honor our fallen,” Liebert said. “We’re going to carry on with tradition.”
No matter what state or city is suffering, the United States is still one, said Liebert, citing the nation’s motto, E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.”

A live radio broadcast is also being considered.

“We’re trying to step up with the technology,” Liebert said.

The ceremony will be abbreviated to about 30 minutes and feature 15 or 16 people.

“Just a minimum amount to carry on the ceremony properly with dignity, and ensure we don’t have high numbers of people,” Liebert said.

The Malmstrom Air Force Base Honor Guard will provide the colors.
Lt. Col. Heather Bodwell, Air Force chaplain, will do the invocation.
Retired Navy Capt. Ken Robison will give the keynote speech, which will focus on a historical perspective of previous crises and how the nation moved forward.

The ceremony traditionally attracts a high number of seniors who respect tradition, Liebert said. That’s the same demographic being hard hit by COVID-19 making it important to follow health guidelines.

“It’s kind of the irony of it all,” Liebert said.

Thousands of veterans across the country have succumbed to the disease, including many in nursing homes, Liebert noted.

The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m.

The memorial features tiles bearing the names of 7,237 veterans. An additional 80 tiles will be added this year.
Participants visiting the memorial before and after the ceremony are asked to respect social distancing guidelines.
Introductory comments will come from Dwayne Nelson, chairman of the association and U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Sarah Keller of the Great Falls Symphony will sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” and three members of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 1110 will lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

The traditional bagpipe salute will be performed by bagpiper Jesse Callendar of Great Falls.
Kathy Austin, chairwoman of the Montana Gold and Blue Star Families Memorial Markers, will provide a Gold Star maker dedication at the memorial.

Members of the Marine Corps League, Detachment 688, will provide a boots, rifle and helmet remembrance for those who have died while serving.

To conclude the ceremony, a C.M. Russell High School trumpet player will sound “Taps” on his trumpet.

The Memorial Day ceremony at the Montana Veterans Memorial is at 2 p.m. May 25. The public will be able to view the ceremony live on the Montana Veterans Memorial Facebook page. A video of the ceremony also will be posted at


Great Falls Tribune
Great Falls’ Memorial Day tradition will carry on in a different way due to coronavirus
By: Karl Puckett
May 13, 2020

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