Volunteers are returning to national cemeteries under certain circumstances, following strict COVID-19 guidance.
More than 40 volunteers displayed the new policies during an event Sept. 19 at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia. A group from a local Latter-day Saints church cleaned headstones while wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
"The reason we wanted to do this is every year we look for service to do in our community," said Tyler Herring, who organized the volunteers. "It's an honor to be able to come out to do this every year."
Justice Cruzan, a Culpeper County High School student, said she volunteered because she had family members who served. She added cleaning the headstones is a way of repaying the fallen.
"Keeping their headstones clean is honoring them," Cruzan said.
The cemetery director said groups spending time volunteering during a pandemic is inspiring.
"Witnessing these volunteers dedicate their time and energy on this beautiful autumn day always renews my commitment to NCA's mission of honoring Veterans and their eligible family members with a final resting place in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service and sacrifice to our Nation," said Matthew Priest, cemetery director. "Even in the middle of this pandemic, Americans are going to safely gather to help us honor our servicemembers who have come before us and stood for something greater than themselves."
Herring said the event was different from previous years with COVID-19 restrictions. He said that didn't stop the group from coming out.
"We're still able to social distance," Herring said. "We're still able to follow all the mandates we need to, but we're still able to serve."
National cemetery directors may allow volunteers to return to the cemetery on a limited basis. The decision to bring back volunteers will be a local cemetery decision based upon current cemetery conditions. Cemeteries use federal, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. Any volunteers who are considered at risk due to COVID-19 are strongly encouraged to wait until conditions improve prior to resuming any volunteer activities.
Volunteers are essential
Priest said volunteers are an essential part of national cemeteries honoring Veterans and ensuring no Veteran ever dies.
"This is the second year that Tyler contacted me about how his team can help memorialize the men and women interred at Culpeper National Cemetery," Priest said. "I am always amazed when I see so many patriots volunteer their time to help remember those who stood their final formation for us. Service and commitment are two words that are etched in the core of all Americans. That is evident today."
To find local cemeteries to see if they offer volunteer opportunities, visit https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/listcem.asp.