On May 24, 2021, Gov. Andrew Cuomo “directed flags on State government buildings to be flown at half-staff and state landmarks to be lit red, white and blue on Sunday, May 30 to honor the essential workers who lost their lives due to COVID-19.” The Governor further directed that flags would “remain at half-staff until noon and landmarks will remain lit on Monday, May 31 for Memorial Day in honor of the service members who lost their lives fighting to defend our country.”
Gov. Cuomo added, “‘It takes a special person, when every instinct in your body says, that’s dangerous, don’t go there run away, it takes a special person to say, no, I’m going in because I think I can help someone… I stand up there every day and I say, stay home, be safe, stay home. Don’t go out, keep your kids home, stay in. But not you. You’re an essential worker. You have to go to work tomorrow so everybody else can stay home. And they did. They walked into the fire every day, and we owe them a profound, profound, thank you… [Remember] them and their families on Memorial Day.’”
The Governor’s announcement was met with opposition from some Republican state legislators. Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda), a Bronze Star recipient and veteran of the War in Afghanistan, commented: “‘The offensive suggestion by the Governor that we fly flags at half-staff in honor of our front line workers on Memorial Day weekend would effectively dilute the one time a year that we stop to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation. While I certainly respect and appreciate our front line workers for all they’ve done, there is no shortage of days the Governor could choose to pay tribute to them.”
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) added, “‘Memorial Day was first established in Waterloo, New York to honor fallen soldiers and over the years has become one of America’s most cherished traditions, recognizing the bravery of U.S. veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. The governor’s attempt to redefine this weekend’s recognition and unilaterally transform Memorial Day Weekend into his own COVID remembrance insults the countless men and women who fought and died for this country.’”
After the New York State Health Department posted the Governor’s flag guidance, State Sen. Mike Martucci (R-New Hampton) asserted that the Department had “‘no clue that Memorial Day is reserved to honor our fallen Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen and women.’” In response, the Department said, “‘We apologize for implying that NY’s May 30 tribute to essential workers overlaps Memorial Day honors. On Memorial Day, May 31 we recognize the sacrifices of those who fell for their country. They will never be forgotten or overshadowed.’”
The essential workers who lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic should be honored and remembered. However, the purpose of Memorial Day is to remember members of the Armed Forces who died defending our freedoms. Leader Ortt is right: It would be best if Gov. Cuomo chose another day to honor and remember our fallen essential workers.
At New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, we will mark Memorial Day by remembering those who have died in liberty’s defense.