LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Year after year for more than a decade, Gail Johnson has visited the Los Angeles National Cemetery to pay her respects to her son: a fallen soldier.

But this weekend, it was different.

“It’s a little bit more lonely this year,” said Johnson, whose son was killed in Iraq on May 23, 2007.

“He was out there kicking the doors and finding bad guys and that was what happened when he was killed,” she said.

Johnson is Gold Star mother, a designation given by the Secretary of Defense allowing her to display a gold star on a service flag in honor of her son.

“As a parent, the most joyful thing you can hear I think is the laughter of your children. Probably the cruelest is that knock on the door,” she said.

For decades, local Boy and Girl Scouts have covered the graves of this cemetery in a blanket of patriotism the Saturday before Memorial Day. But, with a ban on large gatherings, the graves this year will stay empty, as the threat of COVID-19 looms.

“I understand the meaning of the flags,” said Tom Ruck of the Los Angeles National Cemetery. “I understand the meaning of the carnations, but if you have it in your heart, that’s what counts.”

Though there wasn’t and won’t be an organized event at the cemetery this year, loved ones were still stopping by Saturday to pay their respects.

“We always talk about when we pass by that these are the people who gave us our freedom,” said Vietnam veteran Brian Rooney, who brought his granddaughter.

People like Johnson’s son, Daniel Cagle.

“He knew the dangers in Iraq and he knew there was a high probability he wouldn’t come back so he spent a lot of very special time with all of us and he told me, ‘we should always honor him with laughter, not tears,’ ” Johnson said.

And though Johnson misses the events and support that usually come with Memorial Day weekend, she understands the necessity for social distancing.

Regardless, Johnson hopes we still remember the ones who served and the few who gave all for our freedom.