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A deeper view of the matter of honor

I worked fairly closely this past week with a group of local veterans. My task was to write a story about the “honor guard,” a group of nearly 30 who commit their time to attend the funerals of fellow veterans and present military honors for the family. You will find the result of those efforts on page 7 of this week’s edition.
As part of this process, I found myself across from three members of the VFW rifle detail.
I asked question after question, as reporters tend to, about what they do, how they do it, and then…why.
My spokesmen made it clear: Their “why” was to show honor to fellow veterans. One level deeper, however, “Why is that honor important?” was beyond their skill at words to express.
“Maybe you should just come,” declared VFW Commander Blaine Brooks. “Then you’ll see.”
And that is how I ended up standing along the street in front of Sacred Heart Church at midday on Monday, Nov. 6. The funeral of Jim Staloch was underway inside. Outside, 20 or more veterans were waiting to present the honors I was here to understand.
Beautiful music echoed out through the open church doors. Apparently it was warm inside.
Outside, the wind was blowing briskly. The sun kept coming and going behind the clouds. Traffic went by, the train gates located along Fourth Street Southwest went up and down. And the wind kept blowing.
Altogether, we waited 40 or so minutes, never quite certain when the funeral would finish, the family and supporters would come outside, and it would be time to present honors.
Veterans mingled and conversed, clearly well acquainted and happy to see each other. People answered my questions: the rifles used by the rifle detail, I learned, are from 1941. The Legion keeps flags, I learned, representing every branch of military service and displays those which apply most closely to the person being honored. The rifles (of course) fire blanks. The version of taps played as the honors finish is known as “echoing taps.” I saw the proper way to hold a ceremonial flag so that it is controlled in windy conditions.
But all that interesting information did not change the fact that it was cold out on that street. That we didn’t have anything to do but wait. That the wind kept blowing.
And the veterans waited, never wandering far from their allotted positions because they couldn’t be certain when the family would come outside. Many of them were in their 80s, but there they stood, leaving no doubt their purpose in being there was to be ready, and to present the honors the family had requested.
Blaine had told me to come so I would know “why” it was so important to keep the honor guard available. Certainly, I saw some of that. When the family came out, it was stirring to see the group at attention. The seven rifles fired at once had a powerful impact. As I watched the ceremony presenting the folded flag, I got a lump in my throat.
But the more profound lesson regarded the question “how much.” Knowing we were chilled in the 50-some degree temperatures, I couldn’t help thinking about the 30-somes, and how these 20 veterans would be–have often been–outside churches and at cemeteries doing the same things in cold and heat that would have driven most people away.
So I saw in front of me what I had been told in the interview: the honor guard veterans believe it is a privilege to present these honors. I saw people waiting patiently in the cold and wind because they wanted to, because it was important to them to do so.
It was a rich experience for me, and so I’m grateful I was invited. 
By the way, any veterans who have made it this far, you are invited to contact either the VFW or the Legion and find out more. Both the color guard and the rifle detail would welcome more people to join their respective groups. I bet your understanding of why it matters is already stronger than mine.
 

 

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