MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When it comes to Minnesota’s weather extremes, there are some things that just can’t be put on hold. On Monday, that was the case at Fort Snelling National Cemetery where 16 of the nation’s veterans were laid to rest.
Near the entrance to the cemetery, an unfurled flag and snapping rope made a bitter day feel all the colder. Air temperature at noon was a frigid 17 below zero. A brisk northwesterly wind made it feel more like 35 below.
Despite the brutally cold conditions, the cemetery staff all showed up for work.
“They all showed up, they were here early to get the equipment fired up and were getting everything ready to go for the burials today,” foreman Randy Peterson said.
On a terrain of white marble — and whiter snow — life and death continue. Fort Snelling National Cemetery doesn’t close for winter’s worst weather.
“People don’t choose when they want to pass,” Memorial Rifle Squad commander, Terri Winter, said.
On Monday, the cemetery had scheduled burials for 16 veterans. The families of two more deceased vets decided to reschedule their interment for another day. Of the 16 laid to rest on Monday, each of them received the presence of the Memorial Rifle Squad honor guard, complete with a 21-gun salute and two buglers playing taps.
Squad commander Winter says it’s a treasured right, regardless of the cold.
“We have families that are relying on us and so we’re all here,” Winter said.
Twenty-three members of the guard’s “Monday Squad” stood at solemn attention in the bitter cold, before marching in cadence with a revered purpose.
Their frigid hands gripped firmly to the steel flag poles and their heavy rifles. But the true test of the cold was when the squad’s two buglers pressed their lips to the cold metal mouthpieces, still able to play taps with precision.
For each member, it is a frigid burden they are accustomed to performing in all kinds of weather and through all seasons.
“Hail, you name it, there’s been times when we get back on the bus and we’re covered in white, in snow. It’s an act of love, truly an act of love,” Winter said.
It’s their final and fitting tribute to patriots on this frozen and sacred ground.