Military Honor Guard serves at funerals
A U.S. Army Vietnam War veteran and lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9156, Sheboygan, he is a member of the post’s Military Honor Guard, currently comprised of 16 members. They include veterans of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The main function of the Military Honor Guard is to perform military funeral honors for veterans who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended the United States.
This ceremonial paying of respect is the final demonstration a grateful nation provides to the veterans’ families. Those eligible for Military Funeral Honors include:
. Military members on active duty or in the selected reserve.
. Former military members who served on active duty and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.
. Former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable and
. Former military members discharged from the Selected Reserve, due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.
The core elements of the funeral-honors ceremony that are conducted include: firing three ceremonial rifle volleys with M-1 Garand rifles, folding of the American flag, presenting the flag to the deceased veteran’s next of kin and playing of Taps.
Other Post 9156 Military Honor Guard members, in addition to Schill, are: Burt Schuldt, leader of the team; Jim Hoerz, who phones Honor Guard members to participate at funerals; Roger Gering, chaplain; Chuck Schuette, Donny Keller, Chet Robinson, Earl Sargent, Lloyd Reilley, Ralph Reineking, Phil VanEss, Ken Hemenway, Arthur Lloyd, Jerry Gabrisch, Fred Henckel, Larry Seymour and Jack Schafer.
Twelve or 13 members of the Military Honor Guard participate at each funeral. Between three to seven members make up the firing squad, which fires three ceremonial rifle volleys toward the end of the service.
Another Honor Guard member issues the commands. There are two flag bearers – one for the American flag and the other for the VFW Post 9156 flag. A bugler plays Taps, and two Honor Guard members – one of them the chaplain, fold the funeral flag that is on the casket during the services. Gering, the chaplain, presents the flag to the next of kin.
Also, “We pick up the shells from the blanks that were fired during the ceremony and place them into a black or maroon velvet bag, then present that to the veteran’s next of kin,” said Schuldt, a Korean War Air Force veteran.
“It is my job to do that,” he said.
In Schill’s case, he is usually a member of the firing squad. However, Schuldt noted that Military Honor Guard members are cross-trained in their seminar, leading to certification as Providers for Military Funeral Honors. Thus, at times Schill and other members of the Guard provide alternative duties, as needed.
Schill finds serving with the Military Honor Guard to be very rewarding. “I love being part of the Honor Guard. It’s very enjoyable,” he said.
“It’s an honor for me to serve at these veterans’ funerals, because they did a good thing. They fought for our country.
“The veterans’ family members shake our hands and say how much they appreciate our service at the funerals,” Schill added. “Many of them also remark about how nice we look.”
Schuldt says he is touched too by the gratitude that family members express following the veterans’ funerals.
“One widow said, ‘This [the military funeral honors the Military Honor Guard performs] was the most impressive part of the whole funeral,’” Schuldt recalled. “The thing that touched her the most was my presenting the flag to her.”
The VFW has its own funeral ceremony for veterans who belong to the organization. “This takes place at the funeral home,” Schuldt said.
“There are speeches and prayers and laying the wreath on the stand next to the casket. One Honor Guard member lays a white flower, a sprig of green and a flag on the casket. And each post member gives a final salute to the deceased veteran, then turns and marches out.”
He explained that each VFW and American Legion Post that has a Military Honor Guard is allowed to design its own uniform. VFW Post 9156 chose to have its Honor Guard attired in black shirts, black pants and black shoes. The left shirtsleeve has an American flag patch, while the right shirtsleeve displays a patch with the name of the unit the veteran served with overseas.
Military Honor Guard members also wear white neck scarves and official olive-colored VFW caps. In the spring and fall, they wear black jackets with short sleeves and in winter, black, lined trench coats. These jackets and coats have the gold “Honor Guard” insignia tab on the shoulders.
For each funeral in which the Military Honor Guard participates, the Post 9156 receives a $50 stipend from the Veterans Administration. The stipend is used to purchase uniforms for Military Honor Guard members.
With so many World War II veterans passing away at this time, the Military Honor Guard of VFW Post 9156 has been receiving up to three calls per day from local funeral homes to perform military honors, as per request of the families of veterans who have passed away.
Schuldt noted that to date this year, Post 9156 has performed military funeral honors for 69 funerals in Sheboygan County – in Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls, Kohler, Howards Grove, Oostburg and Cedar Grove. And the Honor Guard has served at one funeral in Cleveland, in Manitowoc County.
He added that VFW Post 5612, Plymouth, has its own Military Honor Guard that performs military funeral honors in Plymouth and the surrounding area.
“We participated in eight funerals in one week this year,” Schuldt said. “Three of them were on one day.”
The weather and location of the individual gravesites can present challenges, Schuldt noted. “Trying to fold the flag when it’s windy is difficult,” he admitted. “And sometimes the gravesite has lots of trees or shrubs close by, so there isn’t much room for folding the flag.
In addition to their service at funerals, the Military Honor Guard of VFW Post 9156 takes part in a Veterans’ Day ceremony each year, alternating between North High School and South High School in Sheboygan. And the group marches in Sheboygan’s Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades.
No matter what the occasion for which they are on duty, “We want to do our best, and we have to look sharp,” Schuldt affirmed.