Honoring veterans, 64 years and counting

Honoring veterans, 64 years and counting

American Legion Post 252 Honor Guard

Our American Legion Post has been around for quite some time. Its charter was established on October 25, 1920. Records indicate we obtained our first set of ceremonial rifles in 1948: Ten M1903 Springfields. Our Post members have been honoring our veterans at gravesites, marching in parades and performing flag raising ceremonies since — 64 years and counting.

Some years ago we joined forces with Honor Guard members from the Greenwood and Whiteland VFW Posts to help ensure we maintained adequate attendance for all veteran funerals. Most of them are also members of this American Legion. In the ‘90s we decided to provide military honors for all veterans in our area if the family requests it. We felt then, as we do now, that all veterans are entitled to full honors, including the three-rifle volleys as part of their funeral services, regardless of the veteran's rank, where they served, or if they were Post members or not. We've been attending an average of 155 funerals each year.

In the last few years, we've been referring to our team as the "Greenwood & Whiteland Honor Guard" to better represent all three Post locations; however, we continue to be based at the American Legion, due its more central location for visiting local cemeteries and mortuaries.

One of our most respected past Honor Guard commanders was a wonderful man by the name of Robert Barr, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. Bob served in World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam. He was our commander from mid-1983 through 2009. He cared very deeply for our veterans and was always proud to assist them in many ways. He especially loved the Honor Guard and the fine service it provides veterans and their families.

At present, our group includes four men in their 80s, and they still say "yes" when called to Honor Guard duty. We are so proud to have them working at our side. What an example they set for our younger men and women. One of these senior fellows — and our most colorful — is Bob Dillon. Bob retired from the Army, first serving in the Korean War from August 1950 until October 1951. One day, while he was still 19 years old in Korea, he was unexpectedly promoted to tank commander after his commander was killed right in front of him. He had to grow up fast. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, losing two tanks in the process. Last year he became a TV star by assisting in the narration of "Greatest Tank Battles — Korea" for the Military Channel. Bob has a remarkable memory and enjoys telling us many stories from his past in such vivid detail you feel like you were actually there. There's seldom a dull moment with Bob in your midst. He turned 81 in July and has walked with pain in his leg since receiving a shrapnel wound in Korea.

Three other members of our group have had heart bypass surgery, another has the beginnings of dementia, one has multiple illnesses from contacting Agent Orange in Vietnam, one suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the Iraq War, another suffers with COPD, and another has had a stroke. Yet despite these ailments, we've been told on several occasions we're one of the best performing Honor Guards in central Indiana. Go figure.

We have several "cut-ups" on our team and generally have a great time being together. I'm always amazed at this group’s professionalism. Whether it's a beautiful spring day, frigidly cold or steaming hot, we’re there — waiting for the funeral procession to arrive. Once it does, the smiles and chatter disappear, postures and lines are straightened, and all become quiet and still. After all these years, we are still disciplined. We remember we were soldiers and have never forgotten how to act accordingly. There is no movement, no head turning and all focus becomes centered on the fallen veteran and his or her family for the next 30 to 45 minutes. Our hearts are with the family, and during this time, our only desire is to give this fallen comrade our very best good-bye. This is the main reason we want to be part of our Honor Guard. As a final gesture, our team says "Thank You" by providing a last salute in the grand manner of three-rifle volleys followed by the bugle playing “Taps.” It is during these moments that I can feel the bond and unity we have for each other as a group. It's close to brotherhood.

We can provide all the military honors, but prefer active military actually perform the folding of the flag and flag presentation. They are so sharp and crisp in their appearance and their step. It's truly an honor just to watch them implementing these special tributes. With the military present, we provide the three volleys with our M1 Garand rifles and, on occasion, also play “Taps” to maintain the general rhythm of the honors presentation.
Our biggest concern is that many of our veterans are not aware they are entitled to military honors; or if they are aware, they don't often tell their family about their entitlement and that they want the honor as part of their funeral. Every veteran who has been given their separation papers (other than a "dishonorable discharge") and who has not been convicted of murder is entitled to military honors.

The military provides the folding of the flag, presentation of the folded flag and the playing of “Taps” for free. The military is paid by their department to travel to and be present for the veteran’s funeral. In many areas of our country, there are Honor Guard teams like ours that can also provide the folding of the flag, presentation of the folded flag, the three rifle volleys and the playing of “Taps”. These teams will work in unison with military personnel to provide the three rifle volleys. All the family needs to do is inform the mortuary that they want their veteran to have military honors. They must also provide the mortuary with a copy of the veteran's discharge paper, Form DD214. All veterans wanting military honors should keep a copy of their DD214 with their important papers so it can be easily found and given to the mortuary to prove their discharge eligibility. The mortuary will contact the appropriate military branch, send them a copy of the DD214 and make the arrangements. If the mortuary in your area normally does not provide this service, they should know whom to contact so the process can be started.

Our Honor Guard is not paid to provide military honors, but we accept donations from the family if they can afford it. These donations assist us in purchasing uniforms, rifle parts and repair, travel costs, etc.

Please tell all of your follow veterans what a great entitlement they have, and if you would like to receive military funeral honors yourself please make sure several of your family members know your wishes. Make sure you have a DD214 copy safely available. Each of us on our team feel each of you deserve to be honored with this last salute since you decided to sign on the dotted line to serve your country.
A big "THANK YOU" to each of you!