FERNLEY — At each monthly service at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Navy veteran Jonathan Burnett is heard but not readily seen. From the back of the covered pavilion, AV2 (avionics technician) Burnett rings a bell every time the narrator announces a deceased veteran’s name who’s honored for service and sacrifice.
“In 2010 I saw a video of the late David Hall and a Liberty Bell replica he tolled for veterans, police and firefighters killed in the line of duty in North Texas, I thought that would be a really neat thing to do,” said the Fallon resident after a recent service that honored veterans whose remains had been on a mortuary’s shelf for years, some as many as decades. “When I retired from AT&T in 2011, I started research about doing the same thing.”
Burnett, though, discovered that once he began the research, Hall had died. Instead of stopping his research, however, Burnett moved ahead, learning that the foundry casting full-sized replicas of the Liberty Bell charged $100,000. Not able to afford the steep price, Burnett purchased a bell one-sixth the size that he now tolls at funerals at the NNVMC or special events remembering Nevada’s Vietnam veterans who lost their lives or at Gold Star services conducted for all sailors at the Naval Air Station Fallon chapel who died during the previous year.
Burnett calls it an honor to remember departed veterans whether he tolls at the NNVMC or participates in a funeral ceremony as a sailor. As a Navy reservist, Burnett and others who volunteer for the funeral details have traveled to Mt. Shasta, Calif.ornia or as far east as Battle Mountain. Soon, Burnett will be retiring from the Navy after a 41-year career, but he will be able to conduct funeral honors for the Navy in the uniform of the season.
Burnett said he’s honored to perform military honors at veterans’ services. The ringing of the Liberty Bell, though, said Burnett, is completely different from official military services.
“It’s totally separate, and I don’t do that in uniform … and it’s not endorsed by the Navy,” he added. “I do it as a civilian.”
Burnett enlisted in the Navy in 1978, spending the first year on active duty and the next three in the reserves. He met his future wife, who was in the Marine Corps, while both attended the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Millington, Tennessee. After Burnett entered the reserves, he and wife were hired by Pacific Bell but later transferred to Hawthorne in 1990 to work for Nevada Bell.
In 2002, Burnett reached what is called High Year Tenure in the Navy and had to choose between retiring but not receiving his retirement pay for another 17 years or transfer to the Volunteer Training Unit. He chose the latter where he drilled one weekend a month but did not attend two weeks of annual training.
In the meantime with telephone company, he transferred from Hawthorne to Fernley because of his reserve duty in a new Reserve Security unit at the Naval Air Station Fallon. He eventually received an early retirement incentive from his civilian employer in 2011.
Although Burnett said he doesn’t become emotionally involved in the funerals and with the families, three services stand out.
Burnett said he remembers a service at the small chapel at the Mountain View Cemetery, which overlooks the Truckee Meadows from its lofty northwest Reno perch. An elderly widower was mourning the death of his wife, whom he met when she was a librarian at a Connecticut naval base.
“She’s in her coffin in dress blues,” Burnett recalled, adding he could see the husband and mourners standing to his right. “The mourners and the man stood for the playing of ‘Taps’ and on the third note, he realized what was playing. He said ‘Oh God’ and started to collapse. Three people grabbed him, and he regained his composure, and I watched as he brought up a salute and held it as we did.”
Burnett said another sailor gently slid the flag off the coffin and began folding it as part of the funeral detail.
Several years later, Burnett attended a funeral at a Roman Catholic Church ready to perform another service. Later at a reception, only did he learn from a guest that the man had met his wife in the Navy when she was the base’s librarian.
“We also did the husband’s funeral,” Burnett said, remarking on the coincidence.
Less than one year ago on the columbarium wall’s walkaway at the NNVMC, Burnett reflected about another Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, Francis “Frank” Minervini, who was born in 1912 and enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. Burnett said Minervini was 29 years old when Japanese planes bombed the military installations on Oahu. Later in the war, Minervini was on a torpedoed ship and spent two days floating in the Pacific Ocean with a shattered knee before he was rescued. The 103-year-old Minervini died in 2016. Burnett said he learned Minervini had been living in a nursing home and that no one would be able to attend his funeral.
Burnett wheeled into action and called the Patriot Guard riders to attend and parade the colors. He noted on web pages the World War II veteran didn’t have any family. The publicity generated more interest than Burnett envisioned.
“We had over 100 people at his service,” Burnett said.