About 120 times a year they saddle up for a funeral service or some other ceremony. They are funded solely by donations and the reason they do what they do is primarily to honor veterans.
The Highland County Veterans Honor Guard was formed 20 or more years ago. Honorary member Alberta Duncan, who also serves at the guard’s bugler and vocalist, said it serves at 70 to 75 funerals a year and around 50 other occasions.
“It’s a way to still serve,” said Major Morrow, an honor guard member and retired major in the U.S. Air Force who lost a leg serving his country. “I served my country for a long time and it’s a way to still serve. And you know what? I want to be honored this way when it’s my time to go. It’s an honor to go out and do this for other veterans.”
While serving at veterans’ funerals remains the honor guard’s primary purposes, Duncan said she’d like to see the organization move away from some of the other things it does and focus more on education, especially in the local schools. Another reason is because many of the duties the honor guard is asked to perform do not follow proper military protocol, something the guard is striving to be more aware of.
“So much of what we do is tradition, and that’s OK, but when it varies from what the right thing is, then it’s a bad tradition,” Morrow said. “We don’t want to chastise and correct folks, because if they’re flying a flag, whether it’s being done correctly or not, that’s a good thing. But we want to teach proper protocol.”
For instance, Morrow said, the United States flag should only be flown at half staff upon order by the president or state governor. He said the exceptions are Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day on Dec. 7, Peace Officer Memorial Day on May 15, on or 9-11, also referred to as Patriot Day.
When the flag is flown at half staff for other reasons, Morrow said its offensive to many veterans and military members because it’s putting someone or something above the country.
There are also appropriate times to fire a three-gun volley – which Morrow said many people mistakenly refer to as a 21-gun salute. He said firing squads can be composed of seven, five or three veterans, and that the only thing that matters is that they fire three volleys. There are also mandated times when taps should be played, and when it should not, which Duncan said may change what the honor guard does at some observances.
To lower the flag to half staff on Veterans Day, Morrow said, is way wrong. He said that’s because Veterans Day was established to honor all veterans.
“I didn’t die yet. I’m one of the lucky ones who made it home and I’m still here,” Morrow said. “Veterans Day is not for veterans to honor other veterans, it’s for other people to recognize veterans.”
It’s Memorial Day, Morrow said, when veterans should honor those who paid the ultimate price for their country.
“Memorial Day is only about the ones who died for our country,” Morrow said. “It’s not about the rest of us. We were the lucky ones. We’re alive and made it through.”
The flag should also not be flown at half staff on the Fourth of July.
“That flag should be flying high and free at the top of that staff. We’re celebrating our independence, and that’s what I served for,” Morrow said.
Duncan said that while there are about 55 members of Highland County Veterans Honor Guard, only about 20 are active at any one time. And she said many of them are elderly and sometimes sick or unable to be out in extreme heat or other weather conditions. Others have to work. Sometimes there are two funerals a day and the honor guard has to send out two squads. Or, there’s Memorial Day, when last year they performed nine observances in two days and again had to split into two squads to make it to everywhere they were requested to be.
If there is one thing the honor guard needs, Duncan said, it’s donations. She said that while funeral homes often give them a stipend for serving at funerals, more often than not they get nothing when they go elsewhere. She said they have a van that needs gas, insurance, and maintenance. They have to use other vehicles when they need an extra squad. They had 10 to 12 new members join last year it takes about $150 to properly outfit each one. And then there’s bills for gun maintenance, ammunition, and food, since they sometimes travel as far south as Kentucky and as far north as Columbus.
There’s also a rent bill for storing their equipment, because they have no home. Instead, they alternate their headquarters between the Hillsboro VFW and Highland County AmVets.
“We don’t have the manpower to do fundraisers because we’re out doing all these funerals and other things,” Morrow said.
Anyone who’d like to help can send a donation to: Highland County Veterans Honor Guard, 11541 North Shore Drive, Hillsboro, Ohio 45133 in care of treasurer Bill McCarty. Or for more information call commander David Bays at 513-348-7698 or Duncan at 937-403-3730.
Duncan said no honor guard member gets paid, and they don’t want to be paid.
“I do it to honor my veterans,” she said. “Our guys and girls deserve it.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.