FERNLEY, Nev. (KOLO) At the Veterans Cemetery in Fernley, seven unclaimed veterans will be interned in a ceremony involving the Veterans Coalition and bagpiper Al McNeil.
"Going Home" is traditionally played at this and other funerals.
That's not something McNeil knew by heart or could much less play five years ago.
“This is absolutely the most difficult instrument I've ever learned to play,” says McNeil.
“There's a lot of things going on when you play the bagpipes. It was either 2012 or 2013 it was shortly after the death of Rick James, a bagpiper from Northern Nevada, who used to do these ceremonies,” says McNeil.
McNeil says he took over the duties to play at the veterans funerals once he learned the bagpipes from scratch.
The former enlisted Marine says he wears a pin which belonged to his great, great grandfather who came from Ireland and served in the Marine Corp during the Civil War.
“I think it is more of a cultural thing. I just kind of connect back to who I am culturally,” says McNeil.
It's an honor to play at these ceremonies he says, but difficult too.
He says you have to concentrate on the bagpipes and not those around you particularly the grieving family or you couldn't play at all.
For his volunteer service here, as well as Lyon County's Sheriff for the last four years, McNeil just recently picked up the Silver Thistle Award as the 2018 Scot of the Year.
The award is given to the person who has shown "outstanding service and significant contributions to the people and communities of Northern Nevada or Northeast California."
McNeil made Lyon County his home more than a decade ago, and says there is no better place to be.
The sheriff is a good example of how you can serve your community in many ways.
And as he says, it doesn't always have to be with a badge and a gun.