"What about those veterans who are buried that do not have a funeral, do not have military honors?" Col. Bob Krieger said. "And, that's what this is all about."
On the fourth Monday each month just after the bells toll at 10 a.m., Krieger conducts a memorial for those veterans at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella. A hill with a flagpole at the northern end of the cemetery serves as the graveside service for veterans who were never honored.
Krieger, a chaplain, said veterans are sometimes buried without military honors because the family is dealing with health issues, can't be immediately found or can't afford a funeral.
During the August tribute, Chaplain Lou Williams read the names of 36 men and women being recognized before a handful gathered to witness the service. "Thirty-six outstanding individuals, who have dedicated their lives to serving a greater cause, the greatest cause," Williams said.
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Members of the California National Guard Honor Guard lowered and folded the American Flag as taps played, and the Merced County Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard fired a triple-volley rifle salute.
The Rev. Bill Fleck, who worked as an intern chaplain under Krieger, said he participates monthly by reading from the Bible and closing the ceremony in prayer. "My father was a veteran, so my heart is very much with our veterans," Fleck said.
The cemetery opened its 105 developed acres in June 1992, and more than 2,000 veterans are buried per year on the grounds.
Krieger said the cemetery's administrative staff informs the families of veterans about the services, but the public probably doesn't know about the monthly memorial. "They're welcome," Krieger said about the public. "We feel like grief shared is grief diminished."
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.