MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Schools, businesses and even ski hills are closed Wednesday due to the historic cold — but the work of veteran volunteers never stops.
WCCO-TV found that out first-hand Wednesday morning at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Even in minus-20-degree weather, the volunteer rifle squad and color guard never miss a service.
“We are helping them transition into another world,” said veteran Bob Nelson.
On a day when dangerous, record cold means no school, no mail and no feeling in your toes, a group of veterans is doing what they’ve done for the past 40 years.
“This is probably the most extreme I’ve been in,” said veteran Ken Tibesar.
“No matter what the conditions are, rain, snow, sleet, this 25-below weather, we’ll be out here,” said veteran Mike Hanzal.
Every member of the memorial rifle squad is a veteran volunteer. On Wednesday morning, in a negative-36 degree wind chill, they showed up at a funeral for a fellow veteran none of them knew, but still considered a brother.
They believe it’s their duty to warm the hearts of loved ones, even when Mother Nature has other ideas.
“It’s an honor for me to be there. It’s just something that I like to do and do for the veterans. They deserve it. They served our country and served it well,” said Tibesar.
Mid-week in winter is typically slower for funeral services here at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. They’ll do a dozen or more a day. Wednesday, they only had seven. Some families decided to postpone, but the volunteers still showed.
“It’s important to understand that veterans, when they served our country, didn’t have a choice of the weather or locations,” said John Knapp, deputy director at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
About 90 percent of the cemetery staff are veterans as well. Risking frostbite, they too consider it part of their service to honor those who’ve gone before them. Even in these elements, it’s the least they can do.
“Despite the extreme cold and cancellations in the state of Minnesota, our staff is 100-percent dedicated to make sure we do our mission,” said Knapp.
Fort Snelling National Cemetery is the fourth-busiest national cemetery in the nation.
In 40 years, the rifle squad and color guard have never missed a funeral.