By Jill Penley
United States Congress and the Department of Defense have promised that every eligible veteran is entitled to a military honors funeral when they pass. The harsh reality is that our military is not always able to fulfill this promise. Fortunately, there are honor guards and other veterans’ groups who believe that this promise and this debt we all owe to our veterans needs to be a reality.
They stand in salute of fellow veterans as their family members say a final goodbye. Honor Guard members from East Tennessee help perform full military honors at veteran’s funerals weekly, sometimes daily. They volunteer their time to make sure their fellow men and women have a service they so much deserve.
“The rendering of Military Funeral Honors,” explained Terry G. Reece, who serves as Chaplain for the Johnson County Honor Guard, “is a way to show the deep gratitude to those who, in the time of war and peace, have faithfully defended our country.” An honor guard detail for the burial of an eligible veteran consists of not less than two members of the Armed Forces, is in fact, mandated by law.
Reece, who served in the US Army during Vietnam, considers it an honor to perform this service. He has participated in more than 1,000 funeral services in the past 30 years. “We have a great group locally,” said Reece, who said there are currently 18 local honor guard members. “We used to have more,” he said, “but sadly, all our WWII vets are now gone.”
Today, there are over 33 million living American Veterans who participated in America’s wars. Nationally there are more than two million living war era veterans who bear the physical and mental scars of wars fought during their lives. In the East Tennessee area alone, there are over 70,000.
With every day that passes, many veterans who stood in defense of our country die. Their only memorials are the grave sites throughout America.