Always ready to pay their respects
(Photo via Mike Bath)

Always ready to pay their respects

As Memorial Day weekend once again comes around, American Legion post honor guards across the country are preparing to conduct ceremonies and pay respects – as they do all year. Being a member of one of these guards takes training, practice and commitment.

One active honor guard is that of Samuel Woodfill American Legion Post 9 in Madison, Ind. The post was founded in 1919 and, according to post adjutant Charles Mihalko – who has built an oral history from speaking to its oldest members – has had an active guard for nearly 55 years.

It was stood up around 1970, “with just three or four veterans from the post going to every veteran’s service in the area,” Mihalko shared. Mid-decade, the group grew into the double digits and acquired matching jackets. By the end of the decade, the post commander had made it a mission to get the guard uniforms, rifles and blanks for proper honors. By the early 1980s they got a bus.

Today, Mihalko said, the Post 9 honor guard has 20-25 members at any given time, and gives the ideal number for a full event complement as 15. But not all members can attend all events – “we have completed a service with just nine members.” Over the last decade, the guard has averaged 150-170 services, and about 500 volunteer hours, a year.

New members of the honor guard are obtained “mostly through word of mouth,” Mihalko continued. Post events include a standard call for new members; the average of a Post 9 guard member is 65. A new member is immediately given a uniform, and spends their first few events observing from behind the firing line. During this time, instruction is given on firing procedures.

Post 9’s membership comes from both Indiana and across the Ohio River in Kentucky; Mihalko announced that for this Memorial Day, the honor guard will participate in a morning ceremony in Bedford, Ky.