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The Military View Column: A local military honor guard organized

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By Heath resident and retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Hogan. When a veteran dies, the military honors that serviceman or woman with burial honors. These honors include the presentation of a flag to the next of kin, a graveside honor guard, a rifle or cannon salute, and the playing of taps on a bugle. The honors are presented by an honor guard from a nearby military installation or by veterans groups.

For burials in our area, the Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth generally provided an honor guard. But because of the change in mission of the base with the corresponding decrease in personnel, it was necessary for the honor guards provided to be greatly reduced in size going from 8-12 members to only 2. Thinking and believing that our honored veterans deserved a larger display of respect and honor, Gene Allen of Royse City decided to do something about the problem.

Following the Royse City 4th of July parade in 2008, 12 veterans met with Gene in his home. They decided to organize and develop the Tri-County Veterans Honor Guard composed of veterans from our area. Today that group has 46 members, they are a 501C 19 non-profit organization, and they are available to serve as the full honor guard for fallen veterans from our area.

As Gene says, “We have done 37 funerals since January of this year. We actually organized and formed the group in October of last year and we practiced for two months at my place firing the rifles, learning the commands, and folding the flag for a military funeral according to appropriate Department of Defense directives. I and two other members had served on honor guards while in the military, so we read up on current policies and did the training. We have conducted funerals in Austin, the DFW National Cemetery, and local cemeteries. While we try to limit our travel to 60 miles from Royse City, we have gone farther if needed.”

Personnel in the honor guard have come from all five branches of service and range in rank from Lieutenant Colonel to Private First Class. But within the guard, there is no rank and everyone rotates through the various duties. Three members are WWII veterans in their late eighties, several are from the Korean conflict and several are from the Vietnam War. The others are from the Iraqi War time frame. Two members are still in the National Guard.

When you see the honor guard, you may wonder which branch of service their uniform is from. I asked Gene this question and he said, “The uniform was selected by the members after many discussions. With the Joint Reserve Base close by, it was decided to get light blue shirts, dark navy pants, and black berets.”

“Our name tag is “Tri-County Veterans Honor Guard” and not our individual names. For a funeral, we do not wear our military ribbons on our shirts because we felt it might distract from the funerals where we are trying to honor the deceased veteran. We do wear our rank on our berets. At the school programs and parades, we wear all awarded ribbons and badges on our uniforms.”

“We provide two long sleeve shirts, one short sleeve shirt, and two pair of pants to each member in the guard at no cost to them.  Donations from speeches that have been made, as well as from individuals, have mostly paid for these items. The accessories, e.g., berets, belts/buckles, jackets, raincoats, ascots, and other items are paid for my each member. This runs about $60.”

“I obtained the M-1 rifles as well as the ammunition free of charge from the military. I did buy a 14 passenger van for the group that we use to go to the funerals. However at times we have more than this going and when that happens, we end up taking personal automobiles as well as the van.”

“We do not charge anything for providing the honor guard at a funeral. We do accept donations, but that is not required. If someone wants the honor guard for a funeral, they should inform the funeral home of their desire and then the funeral home contacts us. We do have a web site at www.tricountyveteranshonorguard.org  that one can go to. Someone needing the honor guard can also call me at 972-635-9293 but to prevent confusion, it is better if they go through the funeral home if at all possible.”

I asked Gene if he had any trouble getting 12 members to attend a funeral and make up the honor guard.

“We have a great bunch of veterans when it comes to the funeral details. The members who are retired are the ones I usually call first during the week. Usually I have 12 volunteers within an hour of my starting to call the squad leaders who contact the individual members. We have yet to have to tell a funeral home we cannot handle a funeral requested.”

But the unit does more than honor our veterans at funerals. As Gene points out, “We love to lead parades with our color guard, branch service flags, the POW/MIA flag, our own TCVHG flag, and military vehicles which Mark Witham, owner of a military museum just north of Royse City, lets us use. We also have started a program for the various schools where we go to the school and present a flag to them and then talk about respect for the flag and for our veterans.”

What a great public service organization that asks nothing in return. If you are a veteran and interested in becoming part of this group, please call Gene Allen at 972-635-9293 or contact him at gallen65@sbcglobal.net. If you are a loved one of a veteran and need the services of the honor guard, please let your funeral director know or call Gene.

Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel who volunteers to write this article. He can be reached at jerryhogan@sbcglobal.net or 214-394-4033. His web site is www.themilitaryview.com

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