Highland News Leader

Highland Honor Guard ensures every veteran receives final salute

Val Buchmiller of Highland, flag folder, Legion member, Air Force veteran, presents the folded flag to the family members of a Marine veteran.
Val Buchmiller of Highland, flag folder, Legion member, Air Force veteran, presents the folded flag to the family members of a Marine veteran. amcdonald@bnd.com

They showed up to his funeral and didn’t even know his name.

On a crisp fall day, about a dozen men of the Highland American Legion and VFW joint Honor Guard donned dress uniforms and marched into the Marine Cemetery to pay final respects to a fellow comrade in arms. None of them knew him personally. They were there on behalf of a grateful nation.

It’s a passion they all share. But each of them have their own reasons for serving.

“I got involved when I joined the American Legion 12 years ago. I said I’d be honored to serve on the Honor Guard,” said Jim Hobbs Sr. of Highland, an American Legion member, Army veteran and member of the Highland Honor Guard’s rifle squad.

Hobbs’ passion for the Honor Guard stemmed from his father, a World War II combat veteran. Though his dad had earned multiple Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, he was not afforded a military funeral.

“When he passed away, I asked for him to have a military funeral in Fairview Heights, but they couldn’t do it. So we didn’t have a military funeral,” Hobbs said.

But all that changed when Hobbs joined the Highland Honor Guard.

A decade after his father had passed, Hobbs and fellow Honor Guard members were at the same cemetery where his father was buried. When they had completed the service they had come there to do, Hobbs asked if they wouldn’t mind doing one more that day — for his dad. They said yes.

“I asked these guys if they would do his military funeral. They agreed,” Hobbs said. “It’s important to me, because I know how important it was to my dad. I told the guys I would do every (veteran’s funeral) I can in honor of my dad. I don’t think any veteran should be buried without military services, if they want it.”

Some of the funerals the Highland Honor Guard does are for veterans who died in combat, but most are for veterans whose service has long been over.

“Most of the service we do are for veterans that have (passed away) from natural causes, and they have served in the Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War, and for a term of service that was two to four years,” said Bill Halcomb of Pocahontas, an Air Force veteran, as well as a Highland Legion and Honor Guard member. “Then they came back and lived a productive life, raising a family, and now they’ve passed away. And they deserve the recognition an honor that the military funeral gives to them.”

It’s a task Highland Honor Guard members take seriously, even going as far as getting special certification from the Department of Defense.

“The families are just so impressed by the ceremony, and it’s done with precision, and we try to do it the best we can,” Halcomb said.

And the families are always grateful.

“I’m a quartermaster, and I get the letters of thanks they send me. It means a lot to them,” said Dave Kampwerth of Highland, a member of the rifle squad, VFW and an Army veteran.

The Service & Its Meanings

There is more symbolism interwoven into every aspect of the ceremony.

The funeral starts with casket draped with the American flag, before it leaves the hearse. The Honor Guard then lines up, creating a path through which to carry the casket.

“As the casket is withdrawn from the hearse, the Honor Guard is called to attention, and we present arms,” Halcomb said. “We stand at that position until the entire family has passed through that pass.”

After the chaplain speaks, all in attendance are asked to rise to honor the soldier while the rifle squad, usually composed of seven officers, fires three volleys. If possible, the rifle squad will fire from the east into the west, over the grave.

“We fire into the sunset,” Hobbs said.

Taps is then played on a bugle.

Soon after, two officers fold the flag and present it to one of the family members. The flag is folded 13 times to represent the original 13 colonies, and is in the shape of a triangle, which mirrors the tri-cornered hats worn by the patriots of the American Revolution.

When he joined the Honor Guard, Halcomb said he knew exactly what he wanted his role to be. He wanted to fold the flag.

“I think that’s the most emotional part of any military funeral program,” he said.

Usually, the flag is given to the spouse. If the veteran’s spouse has already passed way, it is typically given to a child or other close family member.

“And we say: ‘On behalf of the president of the United States, (the branch to which the veteran belongs), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s faithful and honorable service. Inside the flag, you will find three spent cartridges, representing the 21-gun salute,’ ” Halcomb said.

They also include a card embossed with those same words.

“It’s such an emotional time for the families that very seldom do they remember the words that are spoken,” Halcomb said. “That gives them an opportunity to see the card, and the emblem of the branch they served in.”

More volunteers sought

Right now, the Highland Honor Guard does between 20 and 30 funerals a year.

“When we do these military funerals, the families are so grateful… Sometimes we think, ‘Well he only did a few months, but they are all veterans, and we do not turn anybody down. If they were in the service, they are eligible for a military funeral,” said Tony Haislar of Highland, sergeant in charge of the group.

But Hobbs, who also serves as commander of American Legion District 22, which covers most of the metro-east, is looking to expand the group’s reach to outside the Highland area.

“We want enough people to be able to provide military services for any veteran in St. Clair, Madison, and Washington counties. We need volunteers, probably about 20 for each county,” Hobbs said. “I want to set it up so it’s a regional thing.”

It’s an all-volunteer force. But it’s a noble endeavor, rewarding to the men and women who volunteer and comforting to the veteran’s loved ones.

“This is important, because it honors the veterans and gives them the recognition they deserve,” Halcomb said.

Anyone veteran who wants to serve in the Honor Guard can call or text Jim Hobbs at (618) 654-8287.

Highland Honor Guard Members

▪ Ralph Branham of Highland, bugler, VFW and Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Kay Whitecotton of Highland, bugler, Navy veteran

▪ Kaytlin Reedy Rogier of Glen Carbon, bugler, civilian

▪ Rev Philip W. Chapman of Highland, chaplain, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Hank Shannon of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Army and Navy veteran

▪ Darrell Bradley of Marine, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Kate Broadhurst of Pocahontas, rifle squad, VFW and Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Don Carnley of Highland, rifle squad, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Herb Durbin Jr. of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Lenny Gall of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Jim Hobbs Sr. of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Dave Kampwerth of Highland, rifle squad, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Ken Kapp of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Carl Neier of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Wes Stueber of Highland, rifle squad, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Lewis Workman of Pocahontas, rifle squad, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Wayne Moore of Mulberry Grove, rifle squad, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Larry Frey of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Jennifer Ostrander of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Matt Tebbe of Highland, rifle squad, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Leon Luber of Highland, flag bearer, VFW and Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Vernon Rakers of Highland, flag bearer, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Val Buchmiller of Highland, flag folder, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Bill Halcomb of Pocahontas, flag folder, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Jim Brusack of Highland, flag folder, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ John Hester of Highland, flag folder, Legion member, Air Force veteran

▪ Russell Rieke of Pocahontas, flag presenter, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Tony Haislar of Highland, sergeant in charge, VFW and Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Francis Huelsmann of Highland, casket bearer, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Phil Klosterman of Highland, casket bearer, VFW and Legion, Air Force veteran

▪ Paul Kustermann of Highland, casket bearer, VFW member, Army veteran

▪ Keith Poss of Highland, casket bearer, VFW Auxiliary member, civilian

▪ Art Schuetz of Highland, casket bearer, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Randy Talleur of Highland, casket bearer, Legion member, Army veteran

▪ Jim Voss of Highland, casket bearer, VFW Auxiliary member, civilian

▪ Wayne Wirz of Highland, casket bearer, VFW and Legion member, Army veteran

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