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NYSDOH apologizes after concerns essential worker memorial will overshadow fallen servicemembers on Memorial Day weekend

Statewide collection of worn American flags for proper disposal
Posted at 5:20 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 00:01:54-04

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — The New York State Department of Health issued an apology on social media Tuesday after concerns were voiced about an essential worker memorial overshadowing fallen servicemembers on Memorial Day weekend.

Clarence Veterans Memorial committee member Paul Justinger said the state should have picked a different weekend to honor essential workers who lost their lives to COVID-19. The memorial's official unveiling is Memorial Day.

“It’s Memorial Day, it’s a very solemn occasion and we just can’t put the flags at half-staff because we think this is what we should do," Justinger said. "They were done that way for a purpose, they were done that way for the veterans.”

In a Facebook post, NYSDOH said "This Memorial Day weekend, flags will be flown at half-staff and NY landmarks will be illuminated in red, white & blue to honor essential workers who lost their lives to COVID-19. We owe these brave individuals a profound thank you and hold them and their families in our thoughts."

Concerns were voiced in the comments of the post that the memorial overshadows fallen servicemembers on Memorial Day weekend.

Tuesday afternoon NYSDOH issued an updated statement which said:

We apologize to all New Yorkers, particularly our veterans, for incorrectly implying that New York’s tribute to COVID-19 essential workers overlaps Memorial Day honors for fallen military members.
New York will lower flags to half-staff and illuminate landmarks to honor COVID-19 essential workers on Sunday, May 30.

Flags will remain lowered and landmarks lit on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31 to carry on the time-honored tribute to the men and women who gave their lives for their country while serving in the uniform of our Armed Services. They will never be forgotten or overshadowed.

“They could’ve picked a different weekend than Memorial Day weekend, but if they keep it separate and distinct I don’t have a big problem," said veteran Norman Murray.

The state is still directing flags to be flown at half-staff on Sunday to honor COVID-19 essential workers. Flags will remain lowered for Memorial Day on Monday.

Some veterans and their supporters said they want to see separate lowering.

“The flag ceremony in particular for Memorial Day should be a new raising of the flag, not a continuation of Sunday’s half-staff,” Murray said.

WNY Heroes President Chris Kreiger said he supports flying the flag at half-staff Sunday, noting it's lowered at times who aren't veterans, such as politicians. He also said there should be separate raising and lowering.

"The flag then should be lowered for those individuals who sacrificed themselves to keep others alive, the frontline workers," Kreiger said. "Those who showed up everyday dealing with not only a global pandemic, but our country's serious pandemic and many of those frontline workers lost their life over it, so absolutely I'm in favor of lowering the flag then on Sunday."

John Moffat, a US Navy Medical Corps Veteran, and Buffalo Naval Park Docent said in a statement it would be fitting to fly the flag at half staff in remembrance of health care workers.

"It would be fitting to fly the flag at half staff in remembrance of the health care workers who died this past year from covid as they fought for the lives of their patients with the virus. And just as fitting on July 4th to show our gratitude to all those doctors, nurses, nursing home care providers, first responders and all essential workers for the freedom we will get to enjoy."
John Moffat

The President and CEO of Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, Paul Marzello, said it's main flag is too big to be lowered, adding the park goes by federal and not state guidance for flag lowering because the ships are owned by the U.S. Navy.

“We are all about focusing on our mission, which is to honor, educate, inspire and preserve, so our focus is on veterans for this weekend,” Marzello said.