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Military funeral honors, postponed by pandemic, are resuming

Eric Cahill of Veterans Funeral Care in Clearwater, prepares to present a flag to Donna Marie Sherf, the widow of Navy veteran Walter William Sherf, who died in April. Due to the coronavirus, more traditional funeral proceedings were not possible at the time. (MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE/Times/TNS)

Committal services and military funeral honors resumed at all but two national cemeteries on Tuesday after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs postponed these ceremonies in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We believe we have a robust set of measures in place that will allow us to conduct committal and memorial services while protecting the health and safety of veterans, their families and our team members who serve them,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie in a statement.

The honors traditionally include a military honor guard with a performance of Taps and the ceremonial presentation of an American flag to family members of the deceased veteran. A rifle salute may also be included.

Under the new rules at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, funeral gatherings may include as many as 50 people, but only 12 will be allowed inside the committal service shelter to abide by Florida’s social-distancing guidelines, said Gerard Lyons, assistant director at the cemetery.

Staff members will be wearing masks when interacting with the families, he said. Family members are not required to wear masks, but the cemetery will have masks available for them.

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Memorial services for veterans who were interred between March 23 and June 8 without military honors will begin July 11 at Florida National, Lyons said.

“We appreciate everybody’s patience,” he added.

While the national scheduling office will reach out to those whose committal services were postponed, staff at Veterans Funeral Care in Clearwater already are contacting their clients, said Jim Rudolph, the funeral home’s founder and president.

To accommodate families whose services will be in the rainy summer, Veterans Funeral Care is offering to host the ceremonies at the funeral home, complete with an air-conditioned chapel, a room for catering and space for the honor guard, Rudolph said.

Interments scheduled on or after Tuesday will include a committal service with full honors. That option won’t be available at Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries in New York until at least June 22, if New York state guidelines allow it, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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© 2020 the Tampa Bay Times