Memorial Day is a federal holiday day for honoring and mourning members of the military who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional ceremonies have been adjusted as large gatherings will not be held.

Master Sergeant Tanya Whitney of the U.S. Army recently shared details on the history of the day, and current plans for the local area.

Knowledgeable of military matters, Whitney has spoken during past programs. Late last year, she gave a presentation on Veterans Day at the Ascension Parish Library’s Donaldsonville branch.

“The day is set aside to ensure those service members who died while in service, particularly those killed in action, are remembered,” Whitney said. “Veterans Day is the day to honor all veterans.”

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. The tradition dates back to 1868, just after the Civil War.

Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May. It honors all those serving actively.

Whitney said there is sometimes some confusion about the different days.

“As veterans, we like to say every day is Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” she said.

An Ascension Parish native who grew up in Sorrento, Whitney joined the Army in 1983. She served nearly 28 years, with 22 in active duty. Whitney retired in 2010 as a Master Sergeant.

Taking care of each other is instilled from the beginning, according to Whitney.

“We’re brothers and sisters,” she said. 

The draft for military service ended in 1973, which transitioned the United States into an all-volunteer force. Currently, about 0.1 percent of the American population serves at any given time, according to Whitney.

This year, due to coronavirus and Stay-At-Home orders, plans for remembrance ceremonies have changed in the best interest of keeping everyone involved safe.

Several years ago a national remembrance moment was started as a tradition. At 3 p.m., a moment of silence is observed to reflect and remember.

“We’ve got flags ordered. We will try to get out to cemeteries and place those,” Whitney said.

The majority of veteran grave sites have been mapped in Ascension Parish. 

“Believe it or not, there are almost 75 grave sites or cemeteries in this parish,” she said.

In Donaldsonville, veterans back to the American Revolution and the War of 1812 are buried, Whitney added.

The Boy Scouts and The American Legion have been active in assisting with the placement of flags, and ceremonies.

Whitney serves as Director of Veterans Memorial Park, which is located along South Irma Blvd. in Gonzales, next to the Ascension Parish Library. 

In the late 1990s, the park was established. Through the years, additions have been put into place, including informational kiosks and memorials.

Traditionally, ceremonies have been held in the park. Every year, the organizers made an effort to put together a unique program.

“It doesn’t take much to take a minute out of your day on May 25 for a moment of silence, maybe a little prayer, pay a little respect to those we have lost. We have lost some amazing people,” Whitney said.

The goal every year is to make sure every individual is recognized for their sacrifice.

“We want to make sure they are honored and remembered,” Whitney said.