While it long has been said that old soldiers never die, the fact is they do, and attention must be paid.
The time leading up to that moment, and what happens afterwards was the subject of an evening of talks to the Willoughby Marks American Legion Post 106 last month.
At a chili dinner on Jan. 24, inside the hall at 108 U.S. 98 just west of Apalachicola, the Legionnaires heard from the director of the Tallahassee National Cemetery as well as from the veterans liaison from Big Bend Hospice.
Following the intro by Post Commander Al Mirabella, the small gathering heard for most of the evening from Raymond Miller, director of the comparatively new 250-acre national cemetery on Apalachee Parkway, which first opened in late 2015.
Miller, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant, and former director of national cemeteries in Milwaukee and Memphis, began by stressing that the cemetery was open to all veterans, as well as their spouses and dependent children, unless that individual left the military with a distortable discharge. The dependent child eligibility is for all those who were born with a medical issue, or who died before age 18, or 23 if they attend college.
“The only difference is that the veteran receives military honors,” when he or she is buried in one of the crypts.
Miller said the cemetery, Florida’s ninth national cemetery and one of 136 nationwide, has done over 325 services since it began. All branches of the military are welcome, and costs are covered by a veteran’s death benefits.
If a veteran remarries after he or she is divorced, the second spouse is also eligible, unless that union ends in divorce.
Miller said national cemeteries throughout the nation are undergoing their largest expansion since the Civil War, and that the one in Barrancas is growing, as well as several others in the state.
He said the federal government is working to make sure a national cemetery is within 75 miles of every veteran. All are operated by the Veterans Administration, with the exception of Arlington National Cemetery, which is run by the Army.
Miller said the national cemeteries offer a pre-need program, which can be arranged by securing the necessary paperwork through The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
The cemetery is Tallahassee can conduct services weekdays, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending with the last one starting at 2 p.m. The grounds are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but since the gates are not locked, people can come in at most anytime, from sunup to sundown, year-round.
Eligibility can be open to National Guardsmen, depending on the specifics of their service. He said before 1980, a person in the reserves had to serve at least one day on active duty, but the rules have been changed a little since. “I don’t tell anybody no, until I know,” Miller said.
He said a service is planned for March 29 at the cemetery to honor the day set aside to commemorate the service of Vietnam veterans. He said a service will also be held on Memorial Day, as well as in September to remember those prisoners of war and missing in action, and in December on the day to honor “Wreaths Across America.”
Miller said a service is planned for March 8 to bury the remains of a man lost on the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, remains that were recently identified through DNA analysis. Originally from Illinois, the family now lives in Tallahassee.
Following Miller’s remarks, Harrison Garrett, the veterans liaison from Big Bend Hospice, spoke about the “Five Wishes” program, in which loved ones can talk over what they want to do in the event they are facing death.
“Loved ones don’t know how to handle that conversation. It’s a hard one to have,” he said.
He said hospice offers 25 veteran volunteers, many of whom can be helpful with visits to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
Big Bend Hospice also offers a multifaceted Valor Program, which can include a Valor Ceremony, that brings together friends and family members to thank the veteran and preserve his or her legacy; and a Veterans Memorial Garden at the Jean McCully Family House to pay tribute to all U.S. military veterans.
For more information on these programs or to get involved, please contact Big Bend Hospice at 850-878-5310.
For more information on the national cemetery, contact Miller at Raymond.firstname.lastname@example.org.