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Despite rain and pandemic, fallen heroes honored at Florida National Cemetery

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BUSHNELL, Fla. (WFLA) – While a global pandemic forced the traditional Memorial Day ceremony at the Florida National Cemetery to go virtual, some family members and veterans made the trip in person to honor our fallen heroes.

Last Memorial Day, Vietnam veteran Doug Gardner and thousands of others posted flags at 108,000 gravestones at the cemetery in Bushnell and saluted each veteran buried there.

Social distancing guidelines forbid that this year. Still, amid heavy rainfall, Gardner continued the tradition on a smaller scale.

“Thank you James Hooper for your service,” said Gardner with a salute.

It proves again a global pandemic may alter our ways of doing things but it doesn’t erase who we are.

Gardner first visited the Florida National Cemetery with a friend 6-years-ago.

“That was such a heartwarming experience that now, I spend all my free time doing something in here for the cemetery,” he said.

He chairs the cemetery’s monument committee and recently submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to add a Gold Star Families monument to the cemetery.

“Particularly here, it’s about the veterans that served and the families that made the sacrifice as well,” he said.

“As Americans, we’ve been doing this for a while. We have a rich tradition and a history of honoring our military dead and that’s something that a pandemic can’t stop,” said Florida National Cemetery executive director Tony Thomas.

According to Thomas, 178,000 veterans and their family members are buried at the Florida National Cemetery.

Visitations and burials have continued through the pandemic, although those in attendance must watch from the curb.

“Once we get the all clear and we’re able to host memorial services and committal services, we’re going to invite the families back so that they can pay those final tributes to their fallen loved ones,” said Thomas.

The traditional Memorial Day service moved online this year.

You can watch the video by clicking here.

“The current COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in so many ways but one thing it cannot affect is our heartfelt desire and our determination to pay honors and tributes to those that have given the ultimate sacrifice to our nation,” said Major General James Hartsell, who was the ceremony’s guest speaker. “It’s my long-held belief that Memorial Day should be one of our nation’s most solemn, and also most patriotic days.”

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