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Column: Honor guard performs important service

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Sometimes I receive story suggestions that strike a personal chord. One that did recently was about the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard.

Its nine-member unit had participated during the funeral of a U.S. Navy veteran — in snow, ice and 12-degree weather.

Dan Hillin, who served 12 years in the Marines and 18 in the Army National Guard, sent me a photo of the honor guard at the funeral of Columbus resident Paul Walker. He included some thoughts about the service these men do and how it should be appreciated.

His suggestion made me think about my maternal grandfather, who served in the Army in World War II. Grandpa was with the 35th Infantry (Cacti) Regiment of the 25th “Tropical Lightning” Division. He was wounded during the Battle of Lupao in Luzon, Philippines, and awarded the Purple Heart. He died March 26 last year. An honor guard performed at his funeral — in frigid weather. Grandpa was proud of his military service, so seeing him honored for it meant a lot to our family.

What the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard did to honor Walker meant a lot to his family, too.

Shari Turpen, one of his children, said that her father often talked of his time in the Navy providing some of the happiest memories of his life. He was so proud of his service that before Alzheimer’s disease took control, he stated that he wanted an honor guard at his funeral, Turpen said.

Walker was buried March 3 at St. John’s Whitecreek Lutheran Cemetery. It was the 17th funeral detail of the year for the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard.

Turpen said the ceremony was beautiful, especially considering the weather conditions.

“They went above and beyond and really persevered. (Dad) would have really been proud,” Turpen said.

What’s important to know about the Bartholomew County Veterans Honor Guard is that its members are all volunteers. They don’t have to endure frigid temperatures or rain or blazing sun, but they do.

Because they want to honor their brothers in arms.

“We all do this because we feel the need to provide this service to veteran families. Our members have sat in Vietnam foxholes, in monsoons and jungle heat. They have endured Korean and German winters. Some carry the scars of their service and are being treated by the (Veterans Administration),” said A.C. Reeves, who is in charge of the local honor guard.

Reeves added that it’s a patriotic gesture for some members. Reeves said that his father served in World War I, he served during the Vietnam era and his son served in the Army during the first Gulf War.

The honor guard’s members represent all branches of service and periods. Ages range from 60 to 97, Reeves said.

“When I’m notified of a funeral and the family requests military honors, I then contact our group. We have about 16 to 18 who participate fairly regularly, as they are able. We may have a half dozen at a funeral up to a dozen or so,” Reeves said.

Whether rain, snow or shine, the honor guard responds. They did a detail in Hope during February when the temperature was 10 degrees and snow was deep the morning of the funeral. They also participate in Memorial Day services, Veterans Day programs and sometimes a flag retirement ceremony.

The honor guard, a nonprofit organization, operates with little funding. Rifles are on loan from the government, but the honor guard pays for repairs. They volunteer their time, mileage and uniform, and incur expenses for top coats and parkas, maintaining them along with equipment such as bugles, flags and gloves, Reeves said. The honor guard accepts donations.

The members also would gladly accept an infusion of younger veterans to carry on the tradition. It means a lot to them and to veterans’ families.

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