October 28, 2013

‘Your duty to do’

Donation helps Honor Guard members honor veterans

Misty Watson

— There were times members of the American Legion Post 112 Honor Guard would fall as they bent to pick up their rifles for the three-volley salute at a military funeral.

“A lot of these cemeteries are up on a hill,” said Don Rich, commander of the Honor Guard. “When we reach down to pick (the rifles) up, if you’re not careful, you’ll keep going. We’re all retirees. So a lot of us do have knees replaced or hips replaced.”

For families of veterans who request it, the Honor Guard attends the veteran’s funeral, does a three-volley salute, plays “Taps” and folds the American flag for the family.

And they do that rain or shine.

They do it whether the ground is frozen or muddy.

They do it in cemeteries, which often have unpredictable terrain.

Graveside funeral services often last 45 minutes, and the Honor Guard holds 9-pound, M1 rifles, which grow heavy. In the past, they were laying them on the ground, sometimes in the mud, which then transferred to their bodies and uniforms.

“The majority of these guys run from 70 years old to 92 or 93,” said Henry Burchfield, a member of the Honor Guard. “The majority of them can hardly reach down to pick them (the rifles) up off the ground. ... We get out there on rainy days. The lower section at the West Hill Cemetery stands in water. When we go down in there, water runs nearly on our shoe top. If you’ve got that mud and water coming off on the uniform, a white shirt and tie, it’s not a good thing.”

Burchfield realized the members of the Honor Guard needed a way to prop their rifles up off the ground.

“(Burchfield) who had just came in saw that and said, ‘I think we can do something about that,’” Rich said. “He called a friend of his and the company says ‘We’ll fix that.’ So they built these stands for us and donated them to the Honor Guard.”

The stands were built and donated by Danny Cobble, president of B&J Machinery, and David Stokes, the plant manager there. B&J, off Cleveland Highway, designs and manufactures machinery for the carpet industry and individuals.

“Henry used to work here years ago,” Stokes said. “Danny tries to help people. We wanted to do a volunteer project for them. It’s something we do from time to time, just to do something for the community.”

Stokes said he didn’t realize the Honor Guard was made up of volunteers before helping to design and make the rifle stands, which are made of steel.

“You don’t really think that much about it,” Stokes said. “I’ve been a pallbearer and see them over there. You respect them. They are on the go all the time. It’s amazing they’ll take time out of their latter years to do something like that.”

The rifle stands provide the solution the members of the Honor Guard needed.

“It keeps them out of the mud, and it will help us a lot by not messing our uniforms up at these funerals,” Rich said. “I was thrilled at (the donation) and that the company thought that much of us.”

Honor Guard members attend many veteran-centered programs at schools, nursing homes and public ceremonies. They have already performed rites at 85 funerals this year. They provide that service to residents of Whitfield, Murray and Gordon counties.

“It’s something you feel like it’s your duty to do,” Burchfield said. “It’s one of the highest honors you can pay to your fellow serviceman ... and one of the last honors you can pay to them.”

Rich was in the military for 23 years and did two tours in the Vietnam War.

“The military has a tender spot for me,” he said. “I like to do what I can to help the military and the ones who have served. ... He’s given his life. Now we’ll give ours to him.”