BUSHNELL, Fla. - Cannons blasted. Bagpipes sang out. A mounted patrol carried American flags, and the Hernando County High School Band played: This year’s event at the Florida National Cemetery unfolded with military precision.
Thousands of people, many of whom who have loved ones buried at the cemetery, battled the hot Florida sun and scorching temperatures to attend the hour-long Memorial Day ceremony on Monday.
When the pomp and circumstance was over and the crowds left, cemetery staffers went back to the quiet work they do all year long.
Four out of five people who work here are veterans themselves.
“It’s a fantastic place to be,” offered Cody Frye of Dade City, who was a chopper mechanic and pilot in Afghanistan. “To give back to the service members, the families.”
The cemetery holds at least two dozen funerals a day. It now has 131,000 servicemen and women buried on site.
Rafael Melendez of Tampa, who was also in Iraq, is on a new kind of front line. Dealing with grieving families gives him a special satisfaction.
“We give them the comfort that they are in good hands and they are going to receive the best from us when they are trying to make arrangements at the worst time of their lives,” he said.
Being part of the Florida National Cemetery is a way to keep serving their country and the military families who have fought for it.
“It is an honor for me to be here and it’s a privilege as well,” added Justin Harvey, who had tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.