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Covid-19 Can't Stop a Century of Memorial Day Traditions in Belgium

New York, USA
Accenture Interactive moved the celebrations online via a virtual ceremony experience

A collaboration of the American Overseas Memorial Day Association Foundation, the US Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium, and Accenture Interactive aims to ensure that public commemorations to honour the 14,000 members of the US Armed Forces buried on Belgian soil – cancelled due to Covid-19 – take place this Memorial Day through a virtual ceremony experience. Memorial Day is a strong tradition in Belgium, where ceremonies have taken place since 1923.

For nearly 100 years, the American Overseas Memorial Day Association in Belgium has ensured that public ceremonies are held each year in May to honour America’s fallen. Yet with current health regulations prohibiting public gatherings, more than 20 public Memorial Day ceremonies in Belgium – both large and small – have been cancelled, most for the first time since 1923.

Resolute that Covid-19 will not get in the way of the purpose of remembrance during this 75th anniversary year of the Battle of the Bulge and the end of WWII, the organisation turned to technology to honour America’s fallen with an element of actual participation. This year’s public Memorial Day ceremony will take place as a virtual online ‘.commemoration’ on Monday, May 25th, 2020 at 18.00 (GMT+1) as an interactive livestream event on a dedicated platform.

US Ambassador Ronald Gidwitz will open the event live from Belgium. Additional speakers will include Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, General John Love, United States Military Representative to NATO, US Secretary William Matz of the American Battle Monuments Commission, and many others.


Innovative live Memorial Day shared experience

The online occasion developed by Accenture Interactive is unique for its combined livestream and social interaction experience in an environment personalised to the event. The public will not only be able to watch the event, but also to be a part of it in real time. As the ceremony unfolds, viewers may choose to watch the livestream alone on their mobile device or computer, or to invite up to eight people in a virtual ‘seating area’ (feature for computers only) in order to experience the ceremony together as they would at the actual events. 

Participants will also be invited to lay a virtual rose in honour of all men and women who have died in military service for the United States, and to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day by paying tribute to those who have given their lives in defense of liberty. Of the more than 500,000 American service members who died during World Wars I and II, more than 14,000 are buried in Belgium.


For all of America from overseas

The online Memorial Day experience is an opportunity for a broader American audience to understand the meaning of Memorial Day overseas. Throughout the country on Memorial Day weekend, Belgians and Americans gather every year at the three American cemeteries maintained and operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Ceremonies are also held each year at the graves of 15 American service members buried in so-called ‘isolated graves’ in other locations around the country.

With the platform, people can experience being at the live event, no matter where they are, says Gert Pauwels, managing director, Accenture Interactive Belux: “When we learned that Covid-19 threatened to halt these events we felt compelled to act and support this project. There is a big difference between simply watching a video of a significant event and actually experiencing that event in person. Impressions are deeper. Memories last longer. And there is a value to being part of something larger than ourselves. We are honoured to merge innovation with purpose to effectively ‘uncancel’ Memorial Day in Belgium, in a year when the meaning of freedom has more significance than ever.”

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