Following last year’s Memorial Day service, my son-in-law asked me, “When you guys are gone, who’s going to do this?”
I looked back at him and said, “Your generation will have to.”
But the brief conversation planted a seed in my mind so when I was approached by A.C. Reeves about joining the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard, I said I would.
I’ve been involved with community observances of Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and events and the Bartholomew County Veteran’s Honor Guard was often there as well.
I had noted several of the members were getting along in years and I thought a somewhat younger guy such as myself might be welcomed.
It took a while before I got my schedule arranged and could match up my availability with the Honor Guard schedule.
I had to get measured for the “uniform” and get some brief training and then observe a ceremony to get a feel for how things worked.
The unit is comprised of military veterans and most are members of outfits such as the American Legion, VFW and AMVETS although just being a military veteran is the only requirement.
Most of our guys are Army vets but all branches are welcomed.
Being Air Force, I wasn’t as familiar with handling a rifle since I last touched an M-16 in basic training back in 1969.
But, if nothing else, we USAF guys are quick learners and I picked up the rifle process with minimal hassle. I also learned how to handle the flags and even was shown the bugle routine for “Taps”.
The Honor Guard is truly military.
That means, there’s a lot of “hurry up and wait” involved.
As I understand, the Honor Guard gets a call from local funeral directors when a veteran passes and the family desires the unit’s presence.
We load the required gear and drive to the funeral location to perform our duties.
One of my favorite actions is when the services are held at a funeral home and members of the Honor Guard, one by one, file before the casket and render a slow, respectful hand salute.
With all those dark colors, service caps and white gloves, it’s a solemn moment that friends and families seem to treasure.
At graveside services, we assemble at the site at least a half hour prior to the arrival of the funeral procession.
Then we fall in at “Parade rest” and wait until the unit commander snaps us to attention and the 7 rifles, on his command, fire 3 times each for the “21 gun salute”.
Folks often ask for spent shells but each family receives 21 polished shell casings as a memento from the service.
A folded American flag is also presented to a family member.
For me, the haunting, 24 note melancholy bugle call, “Taps” sends chills down my spine.
Taps is thought to be a revision of a French bugle signal known as ”tattoo” which notified soldiers to cease an evening’s drinking and to return to their garrisons.
American history traces the playing of “Taps” to Civil War times to indicate to the troops it was time to go to sleep and was first used at a military funeral for a Union cannoneer killed in action.
In early military manuals, it was called “Extinguish Lights” and the original lyrics pretty much reflected that theme.
“Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep, put out the lights, put out the lights, put out the lights”.
But today, we usually associate these lyrics with “Taps”.
“Day is done, gone the sun, from the hills, from the lake, from the sky…All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.”
It is truly an honor to remember departed veterans with this brief, yet poignant ceremony.