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Military funeral honors halted at Fort Bliss National Cemetery as COVID-19 crisis intensifies

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As El Pasoans find virtual ways to celebrate Veterans Day this year, the loved ones of recently deceased veterans face an added hardship: no military funeral honors at Fort Bliss National Cemetery until further notice. 

The option to have military honors, including the folding and presenting of the United States burial flag and the playing of “Taps”, has been halted indefinitely at Fort Bliss National Cemetery because of skyrocketing COVID-19 rates, according to an announcement on the website for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The announcement indicated that as of Tuesday, “committal services and the rendering of military funeral honors will not be conducted until further notice.”

“For a veteran, (military funeral honors are) the last benefit from the nation for their service. They are an essential part, I think, of healing for a family, to see a loved one buried with military honors. It’s the last salute to the person who served his nation,” said Dick Behrenhausen, an 81-year-old retired Army brigadier general who lives in El Paso. 

According to the announcement, immediate family members (limited to 10 people), may be present to witness the interment of the casket, but will have to schedule a memorial service for a later date in order to include the rendering of military honors.

Behrenhausen said that he thinks offering military funeral honors well after the burial will not carry the same emotional impact for grieving family members.

A man sits beside a loved one’s grave at Fort Bliss National Cemetery on Veterans Day. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Chris Lujan, funeral director of the Sunset Funeral Homes West Side location, said that attendance limitations for burials have been challenging for families throughout El Paso. The limit to 10 people at the burial site extends to cemeteries throughout the city, not just Fort Bliss National Cemetery.

“When you have a big family, that can take a toll on them because not everybody can say their goodbyes,” Lujan said. 

Behrenhausen said he believes the suspension of military funeral honors is necessary as our community battles the pandemic. He finds it poetic that these veterans, through being denied burial honors, will provide one last service to the community.

“Who knows better than our soldiers the meaning of sacrifice. They’re not getting their last salute per se, but they are certainly making their last sacrifice, for the good of the country and for the good of the community,” Behrenhausen said.

Cover photo: Fort Bliss National Cemetery, which covers over 82 acres, is the final resting place for over 50,000 veterans as well as some veterans’ spouses and children. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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