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How Arlington National Cemetery is honoring the fallen amid the coronavirus pandemic

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman on Memorial Day during pandemic
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman on Memorial Day during pandemic 02:05

Memorial Day is more than the unofficial start of summer — it's a day to remember service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, invited CBS News to Arlington National Cemetery to witness the placing of flags at the graves of the nation's heroes. 

It's an age-old tradition at Arlington National Cemetery: Soldiers from "the Old Guard" honor the fallen on Memorial Day with 240,000 flags, one for each headstone. 

"For families of the fallen, every day is Memorial Day," Milley said. But he noted there are a few differences this year, including that the Old Guard is now wearing masks. 

"We've been in a very difficult situation with the coronavirus," Milley said, adding, "You and I don't have masks on because of the nature of this interview, but you and I showed up with masks and we'll leave with masks."

The cemetery will be closed to the public this year, but families of the fallen can still visit. That includes Krista Anderson, who lost her husband, Staff Sergeant Michael Simpson, in 2013. 

"And so this is, you know, the first time we've been around people really," Anderson said. "And it's hard not to hug people."

Cindy Kruger lost her son, Sergeant Michael Hardegree, in 2007. She lives nearby, but because of the pandemic, many Gold Star families will miss this year's visit. But the community still plans to rely on each other. 

"Mentally, it's hard for our grief process," Kruger said. "So we're trying to reach out to the ones who are truly shut in." 

Milley said the changes are a front in the effort against a different type of enemy. "What you see here in Arlington, it's a lotta sacrifice," he said, adding, "But we're in a different type of conflict with the virus — but we will prevail." 

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