KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way burials are conducted at military ceremonies in East Tennessee.
WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare talked Wednesday with a volunteer Honor Guard leader and a cemetery director about what they’re telling families.
Burials continue at the two state veteran cemeteries in East Tennessee; however, military tributes by Honor Guard units have temporarily been suspended.
Over the last four weeks, cemetery director Kevin Knowles has had to tell family members of veterans that their loved one’s service will be very different because of the pandemic.
The chapels are closed at both state military cemeteries in Knoxville. The funeral grounds are unusually quiet, there is no sound of either “Taps” or a rifle volley.
“We are basically still doing interments. We allow families to come out. We are encouraging families of 10 or less to come. They are able to watch the interment and keep their social distancing at the same time.”Kevin Knowles – Cemetery Director
The East Tennessee Volunteer Honor Guard unit held 341 full military services in 2019, but when the state limited all social gatherings in mid-March of 2020, the Honor Guard stood down.
“We did our last funeral on March 16. That was the day they (the state) did the shelter in place.”Reed Gerhardt – President East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard
Many Honor Guard members are 65 and older the age that health experts consider vulnerable to COVID-19.
“We decided at that point since almost all of our people are at risk, we would no longer do anymore until you are able to have crowds over ten.”Reed Gerhardt
At both cemeteries there have been about 30 interments since mid-March, but all ceremonies have been postponed.
“It’s heartbreaking in a way because all of us more than likely lost someone close to us how hard it is and how supportive we want to be of the family.”Kevin Knowles
Reed Gerhardt, president of the East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard says his unit has plans when it returns.
“We will be practicing social distancing. We have decided on a plan that will protect ourselves, our families, and the families of the deceased.”Gerhardt
When the all-clear order is given by the state, military services will resume.
“We want to try to get back to normal as fast as we can and be able to provide honors for the veterans we inter here.”Knowles
The various Honor Guard units throughout East Tennessee say there will eventually be military services, they do want to return because they say veterans deserve full honors.
They will do so, only when it is safe for all of us to go back to our normal routine.
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