American Legion News Clips 5.11.20

Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, it’s Monday, May 11, 2020. A belated Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.
And what better way to celebrate the day after Mother’s Day than with some dad jokes:

  • I tried to sue the airline for losing my luggage. I lost the case.
  • Have you ever tried to eat a clock? It’s time consuming.
  • Want to hear a joke about construction? I’m still working on it.

OK, let’s get caught up on the news.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

  • Associated Press: mseavey with “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.

    Associated Press: Schumer calls on VA to explain use of unproven drug on vets

    By HOPE YEN AND MICHAEL BALSAMO | Associated Press | Published: May 10, 2020

    WASHINGTON — The Senate’s top Democrat on Sunday called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to explain why it allowed the use of an unproven drug on veterans for the coronavirus, saying patients might have been put at unnecessary risk.

    Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said the VA needs to provide Congress more information about a recent bulk order for $208,000 worth of hydroxychloroquine. President Donald Trump has promoted the malaria drug heavily, without evidence, as a treatment for COVID-19.

    Schumer’s request comes after a whistleblower complaint filed last week by former Health and Human Services official Rick Bright alleged that the Trump administration, eager for a quick fix to the onslaught of the coronavirus, wanted to “flood” hot spots in New York and New Jersey with the drug. Major veterans organizations have urged VA to explain under what circumstances VA doctors initiate discussion of hydroxychloroquine with veterans as a treatment option.

    “There are concerns that they are using this drug when the medical evidence says it doesn’t help and could hurt,” Schumer said in an interview with The Associated Press.

    He said given the fact the malaria drug, despite being untested, repeatedly had been pushed publicly by Trump, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie must address whether anyone at the department was pressured by the White House or the administration to use hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.

    Schumer said Wilkie also should answer questions about a recent analysis of VA hospital data that showed there were more deaths among patients given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, including how much patients knew about the drug’s risks before taking it.

    In a statement Sunday, VA spokeswoman Christina Noel called it “preposterous” for anyone to suggest that VA would make treatment decisions based on anything other than “the best medical interests of patients.”

    “VA only permits use of the drug after ensuring veterans and caretakers are aware of potential risks associated with it, as we do with any other drug or treatment,” she said.

    In recent weeks, Wilkie has denied that veterans were used as test subjects for the drug and that it instead was administered at government-run VA hospitals only when medically appropriate, with mutual consent between doctor and patient.

    Still, Wilkie and the department repeatedly have declined to say how widely the drug was being used for COVID-19, including how many veterans were given the drug, and whether VA doctors were given guidance by VA headquarters on specific scenarios when it should be used.

    In a weekly call with veterans’ groups last week, Wilkie continued to defend VA’s use of hydroxychloroquine. He dismissed the recent analysis of VA hospital data showing no benefits to patients, suggesting the poor outcomes were because the cases involved older, very sick veterans.

    “Use of this medication for treatment of COVID-19 is considered ‘off label’ — perfectly legal and not rare,” he wrote in an April 29 letter to veterans’ groups.

    The analysis of hospital data, done by independent researchers at two universities with VA approval, was not a rigorous experiment. Researchers analyzed medical records of 368 older male veterans hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infection at VA medical centers who died or were discharged by April 11.

    About 28% of veterans who were given hydroxychloroquine plus usual care died, versus 11% of those getting routine care alone.

    The VA recently said most of its recent bulk order for hydroxychloroquine was being used for approved uses, such as treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but it didn’t provide breakdowns.

    In recent weeks, Wilkie took advocacy of the drug even further than Trump by claiming without evidence that it has been effective for young and middle-aged veterans in particular. In fact, there is no published evidence showing that.

    Veterans are “very concerned that we still do not have clarity on the VA’s past and present use of hydroxychloroquine in treating veterans with COVID-19,” Jeremy Butler, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the AP.

    “Now that the federal government issued an emergency use authorization for remdesivir to treat COVID-19, we need answers to these questions as well as the VA’s plans for administering, or not administering, remdesivir,” he said. That action by the Food and Drug Administration came after preliminary results from a government-sponsored study showed that remdesivir shortened the time to recovery by 31% — about four days, on average — for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

    In a tweet Sunday, former VA Secretary David Shulkin urged the department immediately to curtail use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. “With studies showing no benefit, VA should restrict use exclusively to clinical trials,” he wrote. Shulkin was fired by Trump in March 2018, and Wilkie replaced him.

    Schumer said his main concern is determining whether the VA had conducted any “clandestine studies to determine whether hydroxychloroquine was effective without their permission.” He said there’s also concern that the department won’t address specifically where the drug was sent.

    “These are people who risked their lives for us,” Schumer said. “They should be treated only with the utmost dignity, respect and high standards of care.”

    The drug has long been used to treat malaria and other ailments. A few, very small preliminary studies suggested it might help prevent the coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. But the FDA last month warned doctors against prescribing the drug for COVID-19 outside hospitals because of the risks of serious side effects and death.

    Military Times: VA’s active coronavirus cases drop as leadership talks of reopening facilities

    Leo Shane III | 2 days ago

    The number of active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients dropped nearly 10 percent in recent days as department officials outlined plans to reopen some hospitals for non-urgent needs and visitors in coming weeks.

    But some employees voiced concerns that those moves could be rushing facilities into normal operations before the virus threat has truly subsided, potentially risking the health of both patients and staff.

    “You still have to keep those hot zones where we have coronavirus patients open, so it doesn’t make sense to put (other) patients right in the middle there,” said Barbara Galle, a registered nurse at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. “We could be looking at a lot of trouble if they don’t do some serious planning.”

    On Friday morning, VA officials announced that the total number of coronavirus cases within their health system rose to 10,539 individuals. That’s up nearly 1,000 since Tuesday.

    More than 8,000 of those cases are veterans, and another 1,239 are department employees. The remainder are military personnel, family members and individuals from local communities that VA has taken in to help overburdened local hospitals.

    So far, 827 patients and 26 employees have died from complications related to the illness. The patient fatalities are up about 7 percent in the last four days.

    Despite that, VA officials reported that the number of active coronavirus cases has decreased by about 300 over the last week, to 2,678.

    And on Thursday, department leaders announced a three-phase “Agency Plan on Returning to Pre-COVID-19 Operations” for the health care system. The plan emphasizes that “conditions on the ground will determine how quickly each facility resumes normal operations, and each phase of the plan is aimed at making sure that veterans’ safety comes first.”

    Facilities that see falling numbers of new coronavirus cases, reductions in the rate of positive tests among patients for the virus, and increases in testing capacity will be able to start phase one — allowing some elective procedures and resume some face-to-face visits — in coming days.

    “A central planning solution for resuming regular operations makes no sense here because some areas of the country will take longer to recover, while other areas have seen minimal cases,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “That’s why we’re letting local conditions dictate our next steps.”

    Later phases will include rescheduling postponed appointments, allowing non-essential employees to return to work and opening VA facilities to visitors. VA cemeteries, benefits offices and other facilities will also use the same reopening standards.

    In a conference call with reporters Thursday night, Galle and other members of the American Federation of Government Employees (which represents more than 700,000 federal workers, including thousands of VA staff) expressed skepticism at the reopening plan.

    “It’s my opinion that the administration is not ready to bring people back to work,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “There has to be some planning and coming together with the unions and management to determine what is the best mode of operation to get back into the operational phase.”

    Union leaders and VA officials have sparred in recent weeks over the department’s coronavirus response, including disagreements over the availability of personal protective equipment and other medical necessities.

    Employees have lamented shortages, while VA leaders have insisted that supplies have been adequate.

    Under new guidance released by VA health officials this week, all department staff providing direct care to patients — either in facilities or at home — will be issued personal protective equipment. Previously, those items were given only to staff caring for active coronavirus patients or high-risk veterans.

    The fatality rate among VA patients who have contracted coronavirus is about 8 percent, well above the national rate of about 5.8 percent for all positive virus reports.

    But VA officials in a statement said the mortality data for their patients “cannot be used to compare VA infection or mortality rates with the community because of differences in population risk, test availability, and follow-up.”

    More than 1.2 million Americans have contracted the fast-spreading virus and more than 73,000 have died from complications related to the illness.

    Military Times: Veteran unemployment up to nearly 12 percent amid coronavirus crisis

    Leo Shane III | 2 days ago

    Veterans unemployment jumped to nearly 12 percent in April as the country’s total jobless rate rose to its highest levels since the Great Depression because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

    More than 1 million veterans filed for jobless benefits last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At 11.7 percent, the unemployment rate for veterans was two points higher than its peak during the 2008 recession, and nearly triple the reported level just two months ago (3.5 percent in March).

    Younger veterans seeking jobs were hit even harder last month. Federal researchers reported a 13 percent unemployment rate for veterans of the post-9/11 era. Nearly half of all unemployed veterans in America left the service in the last two decades.

    By comparison, veterans of the first Gulf War era posted an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent last month.

    The negative veterans news still outpaced the unemployment rate of the nation as a whole. April was the first full month of reports tracking the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the temporary (or permanent) closing of thousands of businesses nationwide and left much of the country in self quarantine since mid-March.

    BLS officials said that total non-farm payroll employment for the United States fell by 20.5 million individuals in April, pushing the unemployment up to 14.7 percent. In February, that figure was 3.5 percent.

    In an interview on Fox News Friday morning, President Donald Trump called the grim jobs news “totally expected, it’s no surprise” but vowed to repair the national economy in coming months.

    Nathalie Grogan, a research assistant at the Center for a New American Security’s Military, Veterans and Society Program, said the spike in veterans unemployment was predictable given the larger problems facing the country.

    “This is another reminder that veterans live as part of their local communities, so as problems happen for other parts of the country, veterans are likely to be impacted too,” she said.

    Still, in coming months she and other researchers will be closely monitoring certain aspects of corporate hirings and firings to see if recovery from the downturn could be more difficult for veterans than non-military job seekers.

    “Veterans tend to be concentrated in specific types of jobs,” she said. “Nearly 12 percent of veterans working in the private sector are in manufacturing. So if the recovery lags there, veterans could be more severely affected.”

    BLS officials said manufacturing employment alone dropped by 1.3 million jobs in April.

    Rosalinda Maury, director of applied research at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, said the impact on older veterans is also of concern.

    Individuals who served in the Vietnam era or earlier saw a 17 percent unemployment rate last month, higher than any other veterans group or the country as a whole.

    “We haven’t seen the older population see a fluctuation like that,” Maury said. “The younger veterans have had some swings in the past, but I’m surprised to see the older generations hit that hard.”

    Women veterans were also hit harder than men in the latest jobs report. About 14 percent of that group filed for unemployment benefits last month, in comparison to 11.4 percent for men.

    Nearly 9 million veterans were employed across the country last month.

    Washington Post: Mnuchin says unemployment will get worse before it gets better amid pandemic

    By DEREK HAWKINS | The Washington Post | Published: May 10, 2020

    Two of President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers said Sunday that Americans face an economy that will worsen in the coming months, with predictions that the unemployment rate will jump to 20% from the 14.7% reported Thursday.

    Speaking three days after the Labor Department reported its worst unemployment figures since the Great Depression, the advisers predicted that unemployment will continue to climb.

    White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he thinks the unemployment rate will jump to 20% by next month.

    And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday” that he expects the second quarter of this year to be even worse than the first. “The reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better,” Mnuchin told Chris Wallace, later adding: “I think you’re going to have a very, very bad second quarter.”

    When asked by Wallace whether the country’s unemployment number was “close to 25% at this point, which is Great Depression neighborhood,” Mnuchin said, “Chris, we could be.”

    In the first three months of 2020, the U.S. economy shed 20.5 million jobs, wiping out a decade of employment gains in a single month. The job market’s historic plunge was far worse than what the nation experienced during the 2008 financial crisis. No industry has been spared, even white-collar jobs in government and business services thought to be relatively safe.

    Still, Mnuchin expressed confidence in the fundamentals of the economy. He argued that the job market should begin to right itself by September as he echoed Trump’s calls for a phased reopening of the economy. This economic crisis “is no fault of American business, it is no fault of American workers, it is the fault of a virus,” Mnuchin said.

    Associated Press: New virus clusters show risks of second wave as protests flare

    By FRANK JORDANS AND NOMAAN MERCHANT | Associated Press | Published: May 10, 2020

    BERLIN — A family in China, nightclubs in South Korea and a slaughterhouse in Germany: New clusters of coronavirus infections are igniting concerns about a second wave even as calls grow in some countries to relax restrictions even further.

    In Germany, where thousands have protested against remaining restrictions in recent days, health officials say the number of people each confirmed coronavirus patient infects rose above 1 again, reflecting a renewed increase in cases. The number must be below 1 for outbreaks to decline.

    Health officials worldwide are watching to see just how much infection rates rise in a second wave as nations and states emerge from varying degrees of lockdown.

    Later Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to take a different tack, keeping most restrictions in place as he reveals a “road map” for the country that has the most official virus deaths in Europe at over 31,600. His Conservative government was criticized for being slow to react to the pandemic, but after falling ill with the virus himself, Johnson has taken a tougher line.

    China reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days. Eleven of 12 domestic infections were in the northeastern province of Jilin, which prompted authorities to raise the threat level in one of its counties, Shulan, to high risk, just days after downgrading all regions to low risk.

    Authorities said the Shulan outbreak originated with a 45-year-old woman who had no recent travel or exposure history but spread it to her husband, her three sisters and other family members. Train services in the county were being suspended.

    “Epidemic control and prevention is a serious and complicated matter, and local authorities should never be overly optimistic, war-weary or off-guard,” said Jilin Communist Party secretary Bayin Chaolu.

    Jilin also shares a border with North Korea, which insists it has no virus cases, much to the disbelief of international health authorities.

    South Korea reported 34 more cases as new infections linked to nightclubs threaten the country’s hard-won gains against the virus. It was the first time that South Korea’s daily infections were above 30 in about a month.

    Across Europe, many nations were easing lockdowns even further even as they prepared to clamp down on any new infections.

    Turkey’s senior citizens got their first chance to venture outside in seven weeks Sunday.

    “It’s very nice to be out of the house after such a long time,” said Ethem Topaloglu, 68, who wore a mask as he strolled in a park in the capital, Ankara. “Although I’ve been able to sit on the balcony, it’s not the same as walking around outside.”

    Germany, which managed to push daily, new infections below 1,000 before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes.

    German officials have expressed concerns about the growing number of large demonstrations, including one in the southwestern city of Stuttgart that drew thousands of participants. Police in Berlin had to step in Saturday after hundreds of people failed to respect social-distancing measures at anti-lockdown rallies.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states last week cleared the way for restaurants, hotels and remaining stores to reopen. The country’s soccer league resumes this week despite having a number of professional players test positive for COVID-19, and more students are returning to school beginning Monday.

    France, which has a similar number of infections as Germany but a far higher death toll at more than 26,300, is letting some younger students return to school Monday after almost two months out. Attendance won’t be compulsory right away, leaving parents to make the difficult decision of whether it’s safe to send their children back to school or not.

    With tourism a major industry in Italy, hotel owners, tour guides, beach resorts and others who depend heavily on the summer season are pressing to know when citizens can travel across the country. In an newspaper interview Sunday, Premier Giuseppe Conte promised that the restriction on interregional movement would be lifted, but only after authorities better determine how the virus outbreak evolves.

    Residents in some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places Monday, but Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down. Spain on Sunday reported 143 new deaths from the virus, the lowest daily increase since March 19.

    In a speech to Britain on Sunday night, Johnson is expected to announce a 14-day quarantine for all travelers coming to the U.K. except those from Ireland, as part of measures aimed at avoiding a second peak of the pandemic. Aviation and travel industry groups have already protested the expected measures as devastating to the British economy.

    Russia, in contrast, is still reporting rising infections. Figures released Sunday recorded 11,012 new cases, the highest one-day tally yet, for a total of nearly 210,000 cases and 1,915 reported deaths. Russian officials attribute the sharp rise in part to increased testing, but health experts say Russia’s coronavirus data has been underreported significantly.

    In the U.S., former President Barack Obama harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Obama told former members of his administration that combating the virus would have been bad even for the best of governments, but it’s been “an absolute chaotic disaster” when the mindset of “what’s in it for me” infiltrates government, according to a recording obtained by Yahoo News.

    Many families celebrated Mother’s Day weekend from afar, delaying or changing their normal plans each year in a time of social distancing and isolation. A nursing home in Miami held a Mother’s Day parade on Saturday, with children and grandchildren driving past the windows and waving at loved ones inside. Others grieved for those victims of the virus that has caused particular suffering for the elderly and the previously sick.

    The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths in the pandemic — the most in the world by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. debate over easing lockdowns has polarized along partisan lines as more than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment and business activity has ground to a halt.

    In New York, the deadliest hot spot in the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo said three children died from a possible complication of the coronavirus involving swollen blood vessels and heart problems. Cuomo also was criticized by some for not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died.

    Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive.

    Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and nearly 280,000 have died, over half of them in Europe, according to Johns Hopkins.

    Associated Press: World War II veterans mark V-E Day in Washington with Trump

    By DARLENE SUPERVILLE AND KEVIN FREKING | Associated Press | Published: May 8, 2020

    WASHINGTON — They stormed French beaches on D-Day, helped liberate a concentration camp and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And seven elderly World War II veterans weren’t about to let the coronavirus pandemic keep them from marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.

    Ranging in age from 96 to 100, the veterans held their salute as President Donald Trump joined them in a commemoration at the World War II Memorial on a blustery Friday morning.

    Steven Melnikoff, now 100, was an infantryman whose Army unit was responsible for capturing more than 10,000 German soldiers.

    “It was a tough battle,” Melnikoff, who lives near Baltimore, said by telephone after Friday’s ceremony. Speaking of his unit, he said: “I was with them constantly for 11 months, except the weeks and months that I spent in the hospital.” He had been shot in the neck.

    Melnikoff said he wasn’t worried about traveling from Maryland during the pandemic to pay his respects to all who were lost in the war, “that greatest generation.”

    “We used proper protection,” he said.

    Trump kept his distance as he walked by the veterans, including one in a wheelchair, who had lined up to greet him. Melnikoff said he previously had met Trump at the White House.

    “I just said, ‘Nice to see you again, Mr. President,’ and he acknowledged that,” Melnikoff said.

    The president and first lady Melania Trump participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and toured the memorial. They paused in front of a wall of stars with the phrase “Here we mark the price of freedom,” before they returned to the White House.

    Trump said the commemoration was “windy and beautiful.”

    White House officials had described the veterans as “choosing nation over self" by deciding to join Trump at the ceremony.

    “These heroes are living testaments to the American spirit of perseverance and victory, especially in the midst of dark days," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

    Timothy Davis, director of the Greatest Generations Foundation, which helps veterans return to the countries where they fought, said the U.S. soldiers were originally scheduled to travel to Moscow for a commemoration event. But with international travel out of the question during the pandemic, Davis said they talked to him about trying to commemorate the day in Washington.

    “Of course, we presented to them the risk we are facing,” Davis said. “They said, ‘It doesn’t matter, Tim,’” and asked him to press ahead, saying they viewed the commemoration as “a blessing to all who fought, died and served in World War II.”

    Other veterans joining Trump were Gregory Melikian, 97, of Phoenix, who sent the coded message to the world that the Germans had unconditionally surrendered.

    Donald Halverson, 97, of Minnesota, saw some of the war’s fiercest fighting in Italy. John Coates, 96, of Maryland, fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Jack Myers, 97, of Hagerstown, Maryland, was part of a unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

    Melnikoff; Guy Whidden, 97, of Braddock Heights, Maryland; and Harold Angle, 97, of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, participated in the D-Day invasion that turned the tide in the war.

    Melnikoff described himself as striving toward new goals, including golf.

    “My mission now that I’m 100 years old is to make sure many young people know the story of what happened 75 years ago,” he said. “I want the people to remember so this would never happen again.”

    He was also looking ahead to a golf game on Saturday. Melnikoff plays three times a week and, according to background provided by the White House, is scheduled to set a world record in the summer as the oldest golfer to play on a course in Scotland.

    “Golf is the greatest game, and you can play it till you’re 100 years old,” Melnikoff said.

    Associated Press: Europe holds low-key V-E Day commemorations due to virus

    May 9, 2020

    LONDON (AP) — Europe marked the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to Allied forces in low-key fashion Friday because of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across the continent.

    The big celebrations planned were either canceled or dramatically scaled back. There were no mass gatherings, no hugging or kissing, but the day of liberation was emotionally charged from Belfast to Berlin. For the few surviving World War II veterans, many living in nursing homes under virus lockdowns, it has been a particularly difficult time.

    BRITAIN

    Queen Elizabeth II brought the U.K.’s commemorations to an end with a televised broadcast to the nation at the exact time her father, King George VI, addressed the country in 1945.

    The queen, 94, remembered the sacrifices and the “joyous celebrations” that followed the end of fighting in Europe, and paid tribute to today’s generation combating the coronavirus pandemic.

    “The wartime generation knew that the best way to honour those who didn’t come back from the war, was to ensure that it didn’t happen again,” she said from Windsor Castle’s white drawing room.

    “The greatest tribute to their sacrifice is that countries who were once sworn enemies are now friends, working side by side for the peace, health and prosperity of us all.”

    The queen was surrounded by personal mementos from the war years during her pre-recorded address. On the desk in front of the queen was her Auxiliary Territorial Service khaki-coloured peaked cap — part of her uniform when she undertook National Service in February 1945 and became a driver. It was this cap that the teenage princess pulled down to shield her face as she and her younger sister, Margaret, and friends joined thousands of revelers unnoticed outside Buckingham Palace on V-E Day.

    After her address, people were encouraged to go out onto their doorsteps to sing Vera Lynn’s iconic wartime anthem, “We’ll Meet Again” — which has added resonance as families and friends are separated by coronavirus lockdowns.

    Across the U.K., people got into the spirit of V-E Day, designated a public holiday this year. Many dressed up in 1940s attire, while bunting was displayed outside homes, including at 10 Downing Street in London that houses the prime minister’s office. The “Victory in Europe” speech by Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, was broadcast on television.

    People gathered in a socially distanced manner on the hills of London to marvel at the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows. The nine planes flew in formation above the River Thames and let loose their red, white and blue smoke.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote to veterans, describing them as “the greatest generation of Britons who ever lived,” while Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, led the country in a two-minute silence at the war memorial on the grounds of Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Charles laid a wreath of poppies on behalf of the nation.

    One sad moment was the death of Flight Lt. Terry Clark, one of the last surviving veterans of the Battle of Britain, at the age of 101. Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, Chief of the Air Staff, said it was “particularly poignant” news on this of all days. “He served our country with heroic distinction,” he said.

    FRANCE

    Victory Day has been a traditional holiday in France, but it was clearly far more somber this year given the lockdown.

    Small ceremonies were allowed at local memorials as exceptions to restrictions were granted following requests from mayors and veterans.

    President Emmanuel Macron led a small ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe. He laid a wreath and relit the flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, atop a deserted Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris.

    Macron was accompanied by former presidents, Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, each carefully observing social distancing rules.

    Macron also laid a wreath at the statue of one of his predecessors, Charles de Gaulle, the general revered for leading the French Resistance from London after France had fallen in 1940.

    Macron urged people to display flags on their balconies to honor the resistance fighters and the Free France forces.

    GERMANY

    Although V-E Day is a very different occasion in Germany, it’s considered a day of liberation, too.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top officials laid wreaths at the memorial to victims of war and violence in Berlin, standing in silence as a trumpet played on an empty Unter den Linden boulevard.

    President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recalled how at the end of the war “the Germans were really alone” and “morally ruined.”

    “We had made an enemy of the whole world,” he said in a nationally televised address, adding that 75 years later “we are not alone.”

    Steinmeier underlined Germans’ responsibility to “think, feel and act as Europeans” in this time of crisis and to confront intolerance whenever it emerges. “If we do’t keep Europe together, in and after this pandemic, we will prove not to be worthy of May 8,” he said.

    Merkel spoke with Johnson, Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone to mark the moment. Russia, which was then part of the Soviet Union, saw tens of millions of casualties during the war. It marks V-E Day on Saturday.

    POLAND

    In Poland, V-E Day elicits mixed emotions as the country, which suffered massively during the war, was subsequently subjugated by the Soviet Union and remained part of the communist bloc until 1989.

    At a wreath-laying commemoration at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, President Andrzej Duda described V-E Day as a “bittersweet anniversary.” Six million of Poland’s 35 million people were killed, half of whom were Jewish.

    Duda lamented the fact that thousands of Polish troops who had fought alongside Allied forces weren’t allowed to march in the 1946 Victory Parade in London for fear of straining British relations with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

    World War II began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces invaded Poland.