Preparations for Alton National Cemetery’s Sunset Service start well before the sun goes down

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ALTON, IL (KPLR) - Myra Hughey and her husband could be seen and heard warming-up for Memorial Day services at Alton’s National Cemetery well in advance of the 6:30 start time.

Hughey was asked what they would be performing.

“'How Great is Our God,' 'How Great Thou Art,' and 'My Country Tis of Thee,'” she said.

Ninety minutes before the ceremony people could be seen on the hillside, paying their respects.

Shane Patton was one of them.

Patton said, “We just came up to look at all the flags on the graves of our fallen soldiers.”

The Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle escorts arrived well in advance of the ceremony and took their places along Pearl Street at the cemetery entrance.  It’s just behind Fast Eddie’s Bon Air.

Terry Spurgeon is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.

“If we had a funeral we would be doing that,” said Spurgeon.  “I myself was at Jefferson Barracks this morning, so... it’s been a busy day.”

Patriot Guard Rider Frederic Smith described some decorations he was arranging at the cemetery entrance.

“The shadows represent the firemen and police officers as first-responders that served our country.  Like our veterans-- we have a veterans’ shadow.”

The black, wooden “shadows” appear like silhouettes of a service members.

Members of the Air Force Junior ROTC practiced their paces while an audience was not watching.

Master Sergeant Rich Dansizen said, “To get them ready, we practice at the beginning of every school year.  In late August, early September they begin forming the teams.  Tonight the color guard is going to post and retire the colors, and the Sabre Team is going to do the POW-MIA table in the middle of the ceremony.”

And all of that happened before event organizer Richard Baird even took the podium.

Baird gave no indication how much work had already taken place.

“In a moment we'll have presentation of colors, followed by the National Anthem,” he said.