Newton American Legion Post 111 Honor Guard is an often overlooked sub-group within a larger group. Guards don’t all ride motorcycles like the Legion Riders, nor do they give out college scholarships like the Ladies Auxiliary.
The Honor Guard isn’t overlooked as a means of slighting them. It’s just that people don’t usually require them until it’s time for more solemn occasions, and most typically, that occasion is laying a veteran to rest.
“The Honor Guard has always been around,” Honor Guard Commander Paul Brown said. “Actually, around World War I is when they started the Honor Guard — to put the vets to rest with honor.”
Brown said one of the main duties of the Honor Guard is to fire rifles — Post 111’s group uses Korean War-era M-16 rifles — at veteran’s funerals as a last rites act.
“It’s for veterans only, and any veteran — I don’t care if they’re a general or a private. As of 2000, they can have an Honor Guard, and they deserve one,” Brown said.
Depending on the branch of the deceased, Brown said they also will contact a specific branch of the National Guard to partner up with the Honor Guard to present and fold the flag for family members of the deceased.
“We work with those guys quite a bit. A lot of times, I can’t get enough guys for a firing squad and presentment both,” Brown said.
Brown said there are presently 14 members of 111’s Honor Guard he calls for services. He said World War II veteran Bob Thorson, 86, is the oldest, and Afghanistan/Iraq veteran, Chris Chartier is the youngest at 31. Brown said an ideal Honor Guard to present at ceremonies includes about seven individuals. This way he has a proper firing squad and someone who can play the bugle. However, Brown said he’s often short due to people’s work schedules.
Brown personally has served on the Honor Guard for the last 15 years — the last 10 as commander — and he’s in the middle of the ranks when it comes to time served. Brown said Dale Maki and Thorson each have served for about 25 years. Marvin Morris and Gary Clemon are close to 20 years, and he said John Billingsley has been a longtime member as well.
“A lot of people think we just show up at funerals. There is a lot of work involved in getting going. When a vet dies, the family meets with the funeral director, and the funeral director gets a hold of me if they want a military funeral — to see if they want full rights, fold and present or just whatever,” Brown said.
“Then, it’s up to me to get a hold of the armed services and call the list of names to try and get a firing squad or an Honor Guard together. I have to coordinate that, and if they want the Legion Riders with the flag line, then I have to get a hold of them and set that up also.”
Brown estimates since he’s been on the guard, they’ve averaged around 100 military funerals a year. In addition, the Honor Guard is present at various special veteran affiliated events in Jasper County, particularly the Memorial Day services that take place at eight different cemeteries in the county.
The Honor Guard’s most recent public appearance took place during Friday’s dedication ceremony for the new Jasper County Veterans Memorial Complex. At the ceremony, Thorson and Morris spoke to the crowd, Chartier helped raise a POW flag, and Brown led the call as they delivered a 21-gun salute.
As the commander, Brown’s duties, aside from putting together the Honor Guard lineup for services and acting as the group’s organizer, is to maintain the rifles. He cleans them after every use, which was something his predecessor, Bob Richards, taught him when he first signed up.
To be a member of the Honor Guard, a person must be a Legion member or have gained membership through the Sons of the American Legion group.
Brown, and the other members of the Honor Guard, don’t do this for glory or praise. They all do it to serve a simple purpose: to pay respect.
“It’s an honor to do it. It’s to put our vets to rest with honor. They have to have the honor so they are not forgotten and the family remembers that for the rest of their lives,” Brown said.
Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.