By BRIAN GRAVES
"On behalf of a grateful nation ..."Those words are spoken hundreds of times a day throughout the nation as volleys are fired and folded flags are presented to family members of a veteran of the U.S. …
"On behalf of a grateful nation ..."
Those words are spoken hundreds of times a day throughout the nation as volleys are fired and folded flags are presented to family members of a veteran of the U.S. armed forces are laid to their final rest.
Locally, the Bradley County Funeral Honor Guard has done more than its share of honors for the men and women with whom they shared the uniform.
For them, it is not just a job. It is a duty. One they they step up to no matter the time, the place, or the weather. And, they have done it for more than seven decades.
"In 1946, the American Legion and the VFW got together and started this," said Guard member Roy Smith.
Smith said last year alone, the guard was called upon 101 times. The year before, there were 86 honors given.
"It's mix of WWII, Vietnam, and Korea," Smith said. "We have had some from Desert Storm. It's whenever God calls them home, the Guard goes," he said.
Even for the gentleman who have the military discipline within them, the emotions are sometimes hard to mask.
"Whenever we present the flag to the next of kin, I can't look them in the eye," Smith said. "If I do, I am going to break down and cry. So, I am either looking at the top of your head or your chin. I can't do it."
Smith said the first time he looked a family member in the eye, "They started crying and the next thing you know I started crying."
"We try to maintain a point of honor and respect," said Guard member John Thomason. "You are there to honor and respect the veteran's service of them and their family. A measure of decorum and responsibility is required. If you get too emotionally involved, you cannot perform at the high level at which you need to perform."
Thomason said families are often in "deep grief," and that includes children who may not understand what is happening.
"Trying to maintain decorum is a challenge sometimes," he said. "When we are standing in line preceding the folding of the flag, you are trying to present as solid an appearance and position as you can. Numerous times there are members of the funeral party who remove themselves to take pictures or videos because they want to have a remembrance of the entire ceremony."
Thomason recalled a service at Mount Olive Cemetery where the Guard stood in a downpour.
"But, we had to maintain," he said. "We couldn't slip. We couldn't drop something. We had to perform."
There have also been times when the Guard has stood in heat soaring past the 90-degree mark.
"We're not young people," Thomason said.
The oldest member of the Honor Guard recently turned 89 years old.
"I do not want to bypass him on a funeral, because I will get chewed out," Smith quipped.
There are currently 18 on the Guard's roll with 16 that are active.
"We have them where they are medically disabled for awhile," Smith said. "We had one man walk out with crutches. One of the guys would take a chair and sit down and put the bugle down. When it came time for him to play, he would stand up with his bugle and a crutch and blow his bugle."
He said there was once a member who had an arm in a sling.
"He couldn't handle a rifle or a bugle, so we let him do the calling," Smith said. "He would not back out."
"I can't say anything about these men other than I am proud to be with them," he said.
When requesting the services of the Funeral Honor Guard, the veteran's family must present the veteran's DD Form 214, certificate of release or discharge from active duty. If the DD Form 214 is not available, any discharge document showing honorable service can be used.
The funeral home in charge of arrangements will then contact the Honor Guard to tell them of the request and schedule their service.
"We will be there," Thomason said.
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