The deceased veteran’s flag-draped casket rests in repose at the gravesite as family and friends say their final goodbyes to a loved one who served his or her country. Many of the “honored dead” served in combat in a distant land, while others during peacetime. And each veteran has earned the right to a military funeral.
Often, deceased veterans’ families (with assistance from the funeral director, county veterans’ office and the Veterans Administration) can secure active military personnel to honor their fallen comrades. But more often, graveside military rites are performed by volunteers comprising a local honor guard.
Consisting of veterans from local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts as well as assistance from post auxiliary members, the honor guard performs the same military rites enacted by active duty personnel: commander’s message, invocation, the folding of the American flag followed by the presentation of the flag to the designated next of kin, rifle firing and the military taps.
At one time, numerous honor guard units were prominent throughout the region, often marching in parades, presenting the colors at special events, appearances at Memorial Day and Veterans Day activities and military funerals. One local veterans’ unit which has survived the test of time is the Broad Top Area Honor Guard. Although their numbers are diminishing—mostly due to age, health restrictions and death—the honor guard remains active and in need of more members.
Formed at the end of World War II, the early Broad Top Area Honor Guard members were active in local veterans’ posts and turned out for a variety of events ranging from military funerals and parades to appearances at many important events and observances.
Over the years, as World War II veterans’ numbers dwindled, the empty spots in the honor guard were filled by veterans from other wars and conflicts including the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War/Middle East and the War on Terrorism.
The Broad Top Area Honor Guard, which meets periodically in the Six Mile Run American Legion Post, often has a good turnout for military funerals and selected activities and on other occasions struggles to get enough personnel out to take part in the last funeral services, often requiring participants to perform double duty.
Each honor guard member is attired in an integrated uniform of black pants with a yellow stripe down each leg, white shirts (winter and summer wear) and black and yellow jackets with appropriate markings. Topping off their uniforms are official military hats representing the VFW or American Legion posts of which each member is active.
On an average, a dozen or so veterans turn out for a military funeral (or other designated activities), each volunteering their time and talents as designated by Honor Guard Commander Elmer Weimert. The services of the honor guard are requested—usually through the funeral director—in time to prepare for the upcoming military rites.
While the Broad Top Area Honor Guard normally turns out for local funerals, it occasionally responds to requests for services outside of the Broad Top area. Each request is subject to the availability of personnel, distance and other circumstances.
In recent times, the honor guard has seen an increase in requests from outside of the Broad Top since several other longtime honor guard units have disbanded. In addition to volunteering their time for military funerals, the honor guard members travel to and from the cemetery or funeral home at their own expense.
Looking to the future, the Broad Top Area Honor Guard invites qualifying veterans to join their ranks. The unit’s current membership is aging and/or struggling with health challenges prompting the need for new veterans to sign up.
For more information, contact Weimert at (814) 506-6273 or other members of the honor guard. Inquiries can also be directed to the Six Mile Run American Legion Post at (814) 635-7382, Watson and Black American Legion Post, Broad Top City, (814) 635-4361, and the Captain Phillips VFW Post, Saxton, (814) 635-3079.
Ron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.