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Cecil Barnes

Korean War veteran Cecil Barnes reads the names of Wyoming veterans who died during the previous month during a memorial service on Tuesday in the chapel of the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville. Barnes, 83, has presided over more than 2,500 veterans memorial services.

EVANSVILLE, Wyo. — For 2,501 times since December 1998, Cecil V. Barnes has donned his navy-blue blazer, cap and white gloves.

Most of the folks he speaks to don't know his name. But they'd know if he wasn't there.

Barnes, 83, presided over his 2,501st recorded veterans memorial service on Tuesday in the chapel of the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville.

This was the monthly commemoration for all known Wyoming veterans who died in April. There were 93, from big towns — Cheyenne, Casper, Sheridan — and small — Fort Laramie, Superior, Glenrock.

A Korean War veteran, Barnes actually began his service to deceased fellow veterans in 1986, but the person who kept the record books moved and took the book with her.

So in December 1998, Barnes started keeping track, numbering each and writing the date, name and time of the service.

"I'm going to keep going," he said Tuesday. "I think it's what is keeping me alive. It's something to do."

Barnes has done as many as three veterans' funeral services in one day, and sometimes goes a week or more without any.

He gets calls from local funeral homes, as well as from family members.

"When the family calls me, I have to call the National Guard and get everything lined out. When the funeral home calls, they've already done that part," Barnes said.

Barnes has a crew of faithful fellow veterans that help him with the service. As commander, he presides over the service, which can be included in a religious funeral or memorial service, or used as a final tribute by itself.

On Tuesday, he read all 93 names, hometowns and branches of the service in a strong, clear voice. In addition to those involved in the program, there were 10 in attendance at the service when it began at noon, and a few more trickled in.

Among those in attendance was state Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, whose father, Wayne M. Gay, U.S. Army, was one April's deceased. Wayne Gay, 90, died April 18, 2013, in Casper.

"This is a nice service," Gerald Gay said. "This is in my district, so I try to come every month. It's a nice recognition, and they don't waste any time."

Even with 93 names to read, the prayers, flag volley, taps and flag ceremony took just 20 minutes.

The monthly services have been occurring for almost two years, according to Gary Cohee, who serves as chaplain for the Natrona County United Veterans Council. They are held at the chapel at noon on the last weekday of each month. The Natrona County United Veterans Council, the staff of the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery, and the Wyoming Army National Guard Honor Guard sponsor the monthly service.

Before the start of Tuesday's service, Cohee congratulated Barnes on the feat of 2,500, and presented him with a gift card from the council.

In May 2009, veterans groups throughout the city came together as one to sponsor a public salute and dinner for Barnes. At that time, he had presided over 2,035 veterans' funeral services. Proceeds from the event were used to purchase a plaque honoring Barnes, which was dedicated on Veterans Day 2009 and now is permanently displayed in the entrance of the cemetery chapel.

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