Some of them served in the deserts of North Africa or the European countryside. Many followed the call of duty to the tropical jungles of Korea and Vietnam. Others have served in the deserts of the Middle East. Even though the members of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) made it home, they are fully aware that others have not been as fortunate. It is a brotherhood which can only be fully understood by those who have lived it. What binds them together is the common experience of having survived the battlefield conflict.
Among the members of local VFW post is a group of volunteers who answer the call to remember and honor any and all comrades at the time of their passing: the men of the VFW Post 1856 Honor Guard.
They stand at the ready to escort veterans to their final resting place. Veterans from any branch of the U.S. military, whether they served in times of war or peace, who was honorably discharged is eligible to receive military rites at the time of his or her death.
Chuck Baedke salures during playing of Taps.
While many of the members of the Honor Guard are retired, some are still working and take time off to perform military rites at graveside services both in Fort Dodge and at smaller cemeteries outside of town. When asked why they do what they do, responses came quickly.
"It's the right thing to do."
"Every veteran deserves it."
Members of the VFW Post 1856 Honor Guard are:
Dean Henderson - Air Force and Army
Gene Person - Air Corps/Air Force in England
Rod Dierenfeld - Army
David Wolff - Air Force
Don Jordison - Army
Cory Weiss - Army
Ron Arends - Navy
Jerry Auten - Army
Chuck Baedke - Army
Everett Brown - Marines
Robin Hosch - Air Force
Rich Lennon - Army
Bill Mader - Air Force
Bob Newmann - Navy
Jim Peterson - Army
Joe Rickert - Army
Roger Simonson - Army
Mike Smith - Marines and Army (currently deployed in Afghanistan)
Bill Waycoff - Marines
Dale Watchorn - Navy
Dean Williams - Army
John Woodbeck - Navy
"It's an honor."
"We do it so that no veteran is ever forgotten."
Honor Guard members who are available often attend the funeral service itself, dressing in uniform and sitting together. Sometimes the coffin of a veteran is draped with the American flag. "It really depends upon the wishes of the church and family," said Donald Jordison. Jordison is the group's leader in charge of making arrangements for Honor Guard members to be present when called upon. While some members of the group are retired, others are not. It can be a bit of a job to line up who is able to be there.
Following the service the Honor Guard may accompany the casket to the hearse, lining up and saluting their comrade. At the cemetery military rites begin as soon as the religious ceremony is finished. Normally there are four to six members present with M1 Garand rifles who will fire off three rounds of blanks on command. After the gun salute comes the playing of Taps which is followed by the presentation of the flag.
Flags used in the ceremony come through the U.S. Postal Service and have been flown over the capitol or other government buildings. Jordison said the funeral homes are the ones who get the flags. The VFW Honor Guard has been working with specific branches of the military who have begun sending uniformed members to join the VFW. These members of the Army and Air Force (and hopefully soon the other branches as well) will fold the flag and present it to the family. "It gives the ceremony another level of meaning for the family to have members of their loved one's branch of the military present the flag," Jordison said.
At the end of the folding of the flag, three casings from the blank rifle shells are tucked in. These represent one for each volley that was fired. Jordison explained that the 21 gun salute is usually reserved for officers. The meaning of 21 is that it is the sum total of the numbers in the year 1776.
The guns used by the Honor Guard during the ceremony are M1 Garand rifles which were manufactured between 1936 and 1958. These are the same guns which were used in World War II and Korea. The federal government supplies the VFW with the blanks which arrive via Federal Express. "Even though they are blanks, they are still explosives and are subject to special shipping regulations," said Jordison.
Through the years it has been difficult for the Honor Guard to find members who know how to play the bugle or trumpet for the sounding of Taps. "For a while we had to use a tape player," said Jordison. Now the group has a digital horn which looks like the real instrument, but plays the pre-recorded, digital song.
In addition to volunteering for military rites for all veteran funerals, the group also assists in flag ceremonies at St. Edmond and St. Paul's schools. They assist local Boy Scout troops with flag retirement ceremonies. Readers may have spotted the group in any number of local parades throughout the county as well.
Memorial Day weekend is another busy time for the group. They will be at Oakland Cemetery on May 30 laying the wreath at the Unknown Soldier memorial. On May 31 the group will assist with ceremonies on the Karl King bridge to honor the Navy and at Northlawn Cemetery where ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. with the Karl King band and a program at 10:30 a.m. (In the event of rain, this program may be moved on very short notice to the St. Edmond High School Auditorium.)