Most people never consider volunteering their time to attend the funeral of a total stranger, but that is just what the Jacksonville Ladies do. Volunteers, such as Kathie Garrett, attend every interment service held at the Jacksonville National Cemetery to ensure that no veteran is ever buried without someone present to acknowledge the veteran’s service and sacrifice.
“We attend all services, even if there are many people already in attendance,” Garrett said. “But our main goal is to be there for those who have no family or friends present.”
Inspired by the past
The Jacksonville Ladies formed in 2008 and started attending military interments in January 2009 when the Jacksonville National Cemetery opened. The program is mirrored after the Arlington Ladies, a volunteer group of military wives and female veterans at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The Arlington group was started in 1948 by the wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg.
As the daughter of a World War II veteran and wife of a Vietnam veteran, Garrett said she has always been supportive of the military. She lived in Washington D.C. for 18 years and often visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Her dad was active in the VFW and American Legion and went to Arlington National Cemetery with her on several occasions.
It seemed like a natural fit when Garrett read about the Jacksonville Ladies in her local newspaper. After she retired in 2011, Garrett joined the group and has been active ever since, serving as chair in recent years.
Serving with purpose
Each volunteer serves about once per month by attending the burial of a veteran at the Jacksonville National Cemetery. Volunteers wear a navy-blue suit with a patriotic collar or flag pin and Jacksonville Ladies name tag so that they can be easily identified.
Their goal is not to intrude but to stand as a silent witness while giving honor to the veteran. A sympathy card is presented to the family, affirming the Jacksonville Ladies are there to assist.
“It can be very emotional,” Garrett said. “It’s not a typical volunteer job. It has to come from the heart.”
The Ladies see themselves as a “final witness” to say a prayer while giving thanks and respect to those who are so deserving.
The organization is always looking for volunteers, so if you or someone you know in the Jacksonville area might be interested, check out their website: www.jacksonvilleladies.org.