NEW YORK – When Command Sgt. Maj. Morgan Cady and Sgt. Maj. Nicholas Pardi, members of the New York Army National Guard on duty at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, learned that a veteran had died of COVID-19 at the field hospital there, they knew what they had to do.That veteran deserved military honors, and they resolved to make sure this former service member received what was due.At 3 p.m. Sunday, April 19, with five minutes warning, they made that happen.When the hearse arrived to collect the remains of the man who once wore his country’s uniform, Pardi and Cady quickly organized an escort, turning out Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and civilians for an honor cordon, and conducted a dignified transfer of remains ceremony at the building.Sixty people stood at attention and saluted as the impromptu honor guard made its way to the waiting hearse.Cady and Pardi’s unit, the Headquarters Company of the 104th Military Police Battalion, is currently serving as staff for the Unified Command Center that the New York National Guard staffs to help run what the military has dubbed the Javits New York Medical Station.Inside the massive convention center, National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, active duty and reserve military medical forces and a host of federal, state and city officials have created an alternative care hospital that has treated 1,044 COVID-19 patients.The 104th MP Battalion was to be in Germany and Poland participating in a NATO exercise. But when deployment to Europe was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kingston-based battalion deployed to New York City instead.Before Sunday’s event, the senior leaders at the Javits Center had already thought about what to do if a veteran in the hospital’s care died, explained Sgt. Major Robert Jenks.Jenks, a member of the New York Army National Guard’s 53rd Digital Liaison Detachment, is serving as the sergeant major for the Incident Command.The senior NCOs coordinated with Sgt. 1st Class James Tate from the Army’s 44th Medical Brigade to come up with the protocols to follow when a veteran died. They also coordinated with the chaplains who work in the facility to make sure they would be part of the event.It was also important to make sure there was a casket flag available when the time came, Jenks said. He coordinated with American Legion Post 178 in Dutchess County. Eric Breen, the commander, and Al Andrews, past county commander, ensured that 15 flags were delivered within 12 hours, Jenks said.The plan was in place when the veteran died April 18.“The senior NCOs in the building had received notice that a veteran had passed the day prior and were actively in the loop as to where he was, and where he was going,” Pardi said.But because of the high number of COVID-19 deaths, the funeral home that was due to pick up the body could not say when they would be able to arrive.“We were notified with very little time to prepare,” Pardi recalled. When the time came, they moved quickly to put together the dignified transfer ceremony.Pardi and Cady hustled out of the command center toward the loading bay. They notified Staff Sgt. Nicholas Mancuso, the chaplain’s assistant, to notify the chaplain on duty.They passed the word as they headed for the loading docks. Kevin Clark, the New York City Office of Emergency Management representative, spread the word to the civilians at the center.They pulled out their cellphones and coordinated with hospital staff and the funeral home’s driver as they moved.They reached the loading bay with a few service members in tow and determined that the transfer of the remains had not occurred.Army Maj. Ivan Arreguin, chaplain for the 44th Medical Brigade, joined the group and they worked out the details.Meanwhile, word had spread and more people were assembling.“While we began to hastily put together a ceremony on the ground floor, Sergeant Major Cady and I began to notice the crowd growing,” Pardi recalled. “Before we knew what had happened, the detail of four or five had grown to at least 60.”Everyone that had heard of the ceremony made his or her way to the loading area.They stood in silence as they watched the service members disburse and put their plans into motion.All services, of every stripe and color, were represented. Members of every office, city, state and federal had dropped what they were doing to come bid farewell to someone they never met.New York City Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, whose ambulances where used to move patients, stopped and took part.They lined up along the path. They waited silently.Chaplain Arreguin started the ceremony by stepping forward. The others in the procession fell in place with the medical staff flanking the gurney holding the deceased.Two Army colonels guarded the deceased while Pardi held the flag and followed. Their path took them beside loading bays before turning into an honor cordon of service members and civilians standing at attention, rendering salutes.Arreguin stopped a few feet before the hearse. He turned smartly and waited for Pardi to place the American flag at the foot of the deceased.Arreguin conducted a short, simple service; a farewell to a veteran that no one in attendance knew.“It felt like I was participating in the burial of an unknown soldier known only by God,” Arreguin said.“It was solemn, respectful, honoring, and with the key elements normally performed at a military funeral,“ he added.When he had finished, Pardi lifted the flag slowly, reverently, and clasped it to himself.“Being less than ideal, for what it was, I hope we did the service member justice,” Pardi said.The medical staff then bundled the deceased into a covering for hygienic travel and placed him in the transport hearse.As the door closed, the procession had turned about-face and began the trek back toward the bays, with one less in their midst.Related linksArmy.mil: COVID-19 GuidanceArmy.mil: Worldwide NewsArmy.mil: National Guard NewsMore National Guard newsNational Guard FacebookNational Guard TwitterNational Guard COVID-19 ResponseCoronavirus (COVID-19)Latest from the CDCNational Guard COVID-19 Response