Letters From Home: Veteran Mourns Loss Of Memorial Day Traditions

May 22, 2020

WOSU's project Letters From Home is sharing stories from isolation—how Ohioans are getting through this pandemic, alone and together.

Memorial Day is typically a time to gather, remember, and honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military. With social distancing still advised, many are changing their plans this year.

Richard Hoffman is a U.S. Army veteran, and one of the first volunteers for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. He served six years of active duty, and afterwards served in the reserves for more than 20 years.

But for the past two months, Hoffman's been stuck at home as a self-proclaimed "poster child of pre-existing conditions." This hasn't been easy for the active retiree.

"It's been a challenge in a lot of ways because I like to get out and do things," Hoffman says. 

Luckily, a new project has kept him busy.

"My wife has given me a challenge to talk to my sons about my military career," Hoffman says.

While in quarantine, Hoffman penned a 70-page autobiography that he hopes to share with his family. He revels in being able to pass along the lessons from his service.

"It was a challenge to write it," Hoffman says, "but I think it's all down." 

To get out of the house, Hoffman and his wife take weekly drives down backroads and a few "social distance visits" to family here and there. These outings make the isolation bearable, but Hoffman admits that the remoteness is especially difficult with Memorial Day coming up.

"It's tough, because at the Vets Memorial we had a number of wonderful things planned, that I planned on being part of that we can't do," he says.

In addition to the volunteering, there's another tradition Hoffman is worried he'll have to forego.

"I always go out and put flowers on my father's grave. And I'm afraid of going out to buy them," he says. "Which is tough because that's been a tradition for 20-some years." 

Hoffman's not looking forward to this holiday as much as he has in the past.

"Memorial Day is a toughy for me, I've almost tried not to think about it in some ways," he says.

There are certain parallels Hoffman draws between the current moment and his service in Vietnam.

"When you're out in the jungle for 30 days, you only have what's there," Hoffman says. "That's how long I was out there with only that small group of people. And I guess in some ways, that's some sort of isolation in itself."

Credit Aerial Impact Solutions

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WOSU brings you Letters from Home in partnership with the Columbus Museum of Art.