RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia War Memorial held an in-person ceremony on Monday to honor fallen heroes across the Commonwealth.

In 2020, the ceremony had to go all-virtual for the first time since the tradition started in 1956 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, COVID-19 capacity restrictions lifted just in time to allow more members of the public to attend in person. Organizers estimate at least 600 people turned out.

“For all the claims of what the American public has or has not had to sacrifice during this pandemic, today should remind us of the true meaning of sacrifice and the real meaning of freedom,” said Virginia War Memorial Director Dr. Clay Mountcastle.

According to Virginia’s Acting Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Kathleen Jabs, more than 12,000 Virginians have fought and died in combat since the Revolutionary War.

“They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times when their country called,” Jabs said.

It was an emotional morning for Gold Star Mother and Vietnam-era veteran Brenda May. Her son was one of four fallen heroes honored at the ceremony after all of their names were added to the “Shrine of Memory” in the last year.

Marine Staff Sgt. Donald C. May, Jr. was killed while serving in Iraq when his tank plunged off a cliff into the Euphrates River, according to his mother. She said he died in 2003 after 13 years of service.

“I was shaken…my heart still feels a little heavy but I know he is in a better place,” May told 8News after the ceremony. “Everyday that someone comes and reads my son’s name and those of many others that is honor and remembrance to me.” 

Other names recently added to the Virginia War Memorial include Richard J. Harris of Henrico, Ben Maxwell of Appomattox and Humayun S. M. Khan, of Bristow.