There was a different look to retired Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Belch’s recent funeral at Arlington National Cemetery because of the coronavirus pandemic.
What didn’t change was the honor and respect given to the 97-year-old by members of The Old Guard serving in his burial detail.
An American flag was draped over his casket, which was lined by soldiers on each side.
“Taps” was played by a lone bugler standing off in the distance.
An American flag was presented to his son.
The scene is played out across the cemetery a couple of dozen times each day, but Belch’s funeral featured soldiers and the small group of mourners present for the final goodbye wearing black face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Social distancing of six feet was also maintained during the service.
Those changes are called modified military funeral honors and are the way the Army can continue to hold services while keeping both soldiers and mourners safe, according to Arlington National Cemetery.
When those changes were announced on March 27, families were given the change to reschedule funeral services for a later date. But, funerals like Belch’s have continued.
The 26-year Army veteran died Jan. 17. According to the Army, he was a decorated World War II veteran who earned several commendations including the Legion of Merit. Belch served as a combat engineer with the 42nd Infantry and 142nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Rainbow Division.
He was also one of the first 192 soldiers to wear the rank of command sergeant when it was created.
According to his obituary, Belch is survived by two sons, six grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and one great, great-grandchild.