Three gray-haired men point their military rifles skyward and squeeze off shots that echo through the soaring oak trees of the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Two other members of the volunteer honor guard ceremoniously fold an American flag and snap to a salute during taps. They stand by as the casket bearing yet another military veteran is wheeled off for burial in the vast Florida National Cemetery.
At six special shelters on the cemetery grounds, 60 miles north of Tampa in Sumter County, full military funerals are often happening simultaneously, all day long. They are conducted at a rate of about 30 every weekday. On Tuesday, the day after Veterans Day, more than 40 are scheduled.
More often than ever, the caskets hold World War II veterans, who are dying at the rate of nearly 1,000 a day in America, according to federal estimates.
"Sometimes it gets to you," says Al Williams, 74, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War whose honor guard does as many as five funerals a day. "I've lost a lot of friends."
The constant activity at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery is a grim reminder of just how fast an entire generation is disappearing. Because so many veterans retire to Florida, the cemetery in Bushnell is filling up rapidly with the familiar white grave markers.
Census figures in 2000 showed that World War II veterans living in Florida died at a rate of about 50 a day during the 1990s, thinning their numbers by almost 27 percent. They used to make up most of the membership in the Disabled American Veterans in Florida; now they account for 40 percent.
"It's sad that a lot of history is not going to be here in the next 15 or 20 years," says John Heufel, chaplain of the Dade City Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Across the nation, funeral services for veterans are performed by military personnel, veterans' groups or a mix. At a minimum, eligible veterans are due a flag presentation and taps from military representatives. Eleven national cemeteries out of 120 have their own volunteer honor guard, according to the Veterans Administration.
The Bushnell cemetery, opened in 1988, has become the final resting place for more than 58,000 veterans and family members. It's among the most active in the country.
"They're coming through these gates from the time we start in the morning until we finish at 2:30" p.m., cemetery director Billy D. Murphy says as shots from another rifle salute ring out across the grounds. "They're constantly coming in."
Of the 37 services held Friday, 19 were for World War II veterans. About half of Tuesday's burials will be, too. The cemetery will take a break Monday for its annual Veterans Day program.
Funerals for veterans of the Korean War, fought from 1950 to '53, are also occurring more often. The VA estimates that 2008 will be the peak year for national cemeteries -- in other words, most World War II and Korean War vets will be gone after that.
"It is always difficult to lose friends," says Vince Whibb, vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Veterans Affairs and a World War II veteran. "They were from the greatest generation. They were ready and knew what needed to be done, and they made a great sacrifice for our way of life."