Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when mass gatherings are discouraged, the Veterans Day commemoration at the America Memorial Park still pushed through yesterday but with social distancing protocols that limited the number of seats at the event.
The Saipan event started out with a motorcade from Marpi to different points of Saipan and ended up at the American Memorial Park to mark the traditional moment when the 11th day of the 11th month on the 11th hour of the year is celebrated as Veterans Day.
A B-1 Lancer aircraft and two F-22 Raptors, all from the Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, later flew in formation over Saipan as part of the ceremony. According to a statement from the AAFB, the B-1 Lancer is based out of the 9th Bomb Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and the F-22 Raptors are based out of the 94th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Besides Saipan, the fighters also flew over Palau and Guam.
Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang, who served in the U.S. military for over 20 years and is a Vietnam War veteran, was the keynote speaker this year.
In his speech, Apatang said that “the beginning of our democratic society is rooted in altruism,” and that core value “has brought many military sons and daughters back to safety no matter where they were at the moment.” He credits his presence at yesterday’s events to each of the soldiers in his division who held that “core value firmly to heart, which was to survive the harsh environment in Vietnam and the hissing bullets rocketing in their direction.” Apatang recalled that during his time in Vietnam, from the Mekong Delta to the demilitarized zone advancing the nation’s mission to protect its interest in South Vietnam and to resist the spread of communism into the rest of Asia, he put himself in front of his soldiers and, in return, they did the same for him.
“Honoring our nation’s approximately 20 million veterans on a designated federal holiday is fittingly patriotic. More than 90 years of tradition of commemorating Veterans Day is in our nation’s proclamation to perpetuate peace through goodwill and mutual understanding between nations,” said Apatang.
He said his life before and after Vietnam has not been easy, and his experiences still linger in his head, which is why he holds this day near and dear to his heart. “To all veterans, despite the challenges our nation is facing today, we assure you, we got your back,” said Apatang.
Unlike previous years when people stood side by side in the crowd watching the ceremony, this year’s version of Veterans Day was different. According to a staff handing out the programs, due to the COVID-19 social distancing guidance, they were only allowed to have 50 chairs at the event. This meant that all other guests had to bring their own chairs.
Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day until it was renamed in 1954. It marks the formal end of World War 1 on Nov. 11, 1918 when the armistice with Germany went into effect.