Virtual National Memorial Day Parade honors services in conflict and pandemic

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COLUMBIA — The American Veterans Center has hosted the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C. for 15 years. But this year, the celebration is completely virtual with the help from a local Columbia business. 

AVC created a more than hour long virtual parade video, compiling the last three National Memorial Day Parades. The video includes messages from actors like Matthew McConaughey to performances from Justin Moore, Trace Adkins and more. There’s also documentation from all eras of conflict, dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Veterans United in Columbia is one of the sponsors for the production of the video. Pam Swan is the Vice President of Military Relations and Business Development for Veterans United Home, and she helped AVC create the virtual parade idea.

“One of their (AVC) leaders called and said ‘What do you think? How can we still do this?,” Swan said. “And we kind of talked it over, and it seemed like it would be a better venue, even through the pandemic, doing it this way.”

The video is about remembering those who have served in combat and also those who are fighting the current pandemic.

“They went to major artists and performers,” Swan said. “And they got them recorded talking to the American people about why this parade is so important, but also bringing in COVID-19. And thanking all of our first responders. Thanking our food industries who have stayed out there on the frontlines. Thanking those and remembering those we’ve lost because of COVID as well.”

The video is available for streaming, and it's airing on networks across the nation. An estimated eight million people will watch.

This is the first year the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey will not be seeing the parade in-person. Instead, he’ll be watching it from his living room in Pennsylvania.

“Days like this, you know, are tough because you can’t celebrate the way we traditionally do,” the Sergeant Major said. “But for me, Memorial Day, regardless if we have a parade or not, is a reminder. It’s a reminder that we are lucky as a nation. Truly, truly grateful for the men and women who sacrificed for us.”

The Sergeant Major was the highest enlisted personnel in the army before he retired in December 2019. He completed four tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployed in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He was also decorated with the Bronze Star with Valor for his leadership during the 4th Infantry Division’s 2-month “Battle for Sadr City” in 2008.

The Sergeant Major said he believes the video is a very fitting tribute.

“These are unprecedented times,” he said. “Most of us will never hopefully see anything like this in our lifetimes and none of us ever have. We’re all changing the way we do things, and it doesn’t mean whether we judge those things are good or bad, or right or wrong. It’s what we can do right now, and that’s important.” 

Swan said the video serves as a reminder.

“To see where we came from and where we have to get back to,” she said. “I think there’s no better way to do that than to show the people who have fought all along for us to get there.”

She also believes the video may be able to reach younger generations through streaming platforms.

“If we are taking our young kids, and showing them this site on their computer screens, I really hope that will give a level to those kids that maybe they haven’t witnessed or had the opportunity to go and sit down and a see a parade,” Swan said. “Now they can see one of the utmost importance and realize why.”

The National Memorial Parade video can be viewed on Vimeo or on the American Veterans Center’s website.