GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) --Air Force Staff Sergeant Tommy Lee Jeffers Senior was laid to rest Wednesday in Goldsboro amidst the pomp and circumstance of a formal military ceremony.
More than two dozen Patriot Guard members were on hand, along with an honor guard from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. There was a 12-gun salute and taps was played.
"He was 21 years in the Air Force and a retired fire chief," reminisced Jeffers' daughter, Marina.
Jeffers' wife, also a veteran, was buried in an urn placed inside his casket.
Just weeks ago, such a ceremony would not have taken place at the veteran's cemetery.
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"We're very grateful that it opened up, and we are fortunate everything fell into play and [we] were able to have this ceremony today," Jeffers' daughter explains.
"I'm just honored to be here," says Brian Volk, a veteran. "I'm just glad it's up and running and we have a bright place to come to and honor veterans here in Wayne County."
The cemetery was dedicated last November by Gov. Pat McCrory, but government bureaucracy prevented it from opening. Its opening was delayed because legislators didn't pass the state budget on time. Without a budget, a cemetery staff could not be hired.
That angered families, who then contacted the I-Team. The families said they wanted the closure of putting their loved ones to rest.
"It's a slap in the face, not only to the veterans, but the families of the veterans," Dave Parker, a Vietnam War veteran, exclaimed.
Weeks after the I-Team ran its story, the cemetery opened.
Steve Howell is the owner of a funeral home in Goldsboro. For months, he's been saving veterans' remains for burial at the cemetery.
"Family members are very grateful that it finally opened up, and that they can finally get closure," he said. "It is a great joy, honor. We have been waiting for this day for many, many years and it has finally come to reality."
Veterans are also glad to have a special cemetery honor them in the eastern part of the state.
"The nice thing about being buried in a veteran's cemetery is you're around all your friends," says Vic Miller, a veteran.
The Eastern Carolina State Veterans cemetery is now the fourth state-operated vet cemetery. It has 11,000 graves. Its opening comes at a good time as the other veteran cemeteries are overcrowding.
"With the rough start we had, it's awfully special we have a place now in Wayne County," says Brian Volk. "There are many others in surrounding areas that are filling up fast. It's an honor to be able to have one in Wayne County in Goldsboro.
Funeral homes in Goldsboro are now lining up to schedule burials for fallen war heroes whose remains can at long last be laid in their final resting place.
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