Memorial Day may be a bit grimmer for some this year, as most events and ceremonies have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cherokee County Veterans Council will not be placing flags in the Tahlequah City Cemetery this year, according to Ada Cannonie. Usually, members of the council - which represents more than a dozen organizations - have volunteers to put a flag at each veteran's headstone. This is also a time for the group to collect donations.

Besides groups being encouraged not to gather, many members of local veterans organizations are older or have health issues. Organizers don't want to put anyone at risk.

Some rural cemeteries are still having decoration days, but the dinners usually associated with them were canceled.

Flags are flying downtown to mark Memorial Day. Boy Scout Troop 743 volunteered a while back to put up and take down the American flags along Muskogee Avenue. Some members started doing that Thursday, but then the rain hit. Tahlequah Main Street Association Director Jami Hale said she would finish putting up the rest of them Friday morning.

Community members may have chosen to decorate their houses for the holiday, and one has been doing it for years.

Bonnie Harper's son was killed in 2007 while on active duty in Iraq. When she moved to Cherokee County about a decade ago, she installed a flagpole in her front yard.

It currently has an American flag and a black Army flag flying on it.

For a few years, Harper used to put out 150 flags in her yard and along the road. She wanted to go bigger, so now she has 34 3-foot by 5-foot flags lining the road and another in a landscaped area.

Harper works at Lowe's, and she said the store has been generous with donations so she can share her patriotic ways.

"Every one you see has a spotlight on it. They stay out all night and the lights are dusk to dawn," she said. "I respect the flag."

She also has a green porch light on all the time to show support for veterans.

A Gold Star Mother, Harper began the Wreaths for Fallen Heroes organization with her sister. The nonprofit lays wreaths at the headstones in Fort Gibson National Cemetery in November. Harper said there are currently about 22,000 headstones, and the organization has received enough donations that every headstone will get a wreath this year. She was asked to participate in the small, private Memorial Day ceremony in Fort Gibson.

One thing Harper has made sure to do is to remind people that Memorial Day is not a fun, celebratory time.

She tells new co-workers not to say "Happy Memorial Day" to customers.

"You say that to a parent who just lost a child and you're bound to get barked at," said Harper. "Stop and remember how you got the freedom to have that cookout and party this weekend."

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