Combined Honor Guard Being Sought

Fundraiser for new uniforms conducted

One local veteran is trying to make sure the tradition of a military honor guard at the funerals of fellow vets continues.

Robbie Hardison, who is a member of the Dunn American Legion and VFW and the Johnston County Vietnam Veterans of America, believes a need to replenish the ranks of the honor guard has come.

Due to a combination of cutbacks by the military in sending honor guards and the fact both the VFW and Legion are seeing an older membership — in some cases, sadly, a dying membership due to age — he feels the time has come to make the most of what is available.

“We’re starting to age out,” he said. “Most of us are in our 70s and the Army, Navy and Marines have reduced the number of funerals they do each year. Fort Bragg has turned over their requests to a National Guard unit in Raleigh.”

With that in mind, he came up with a simple, but obvious solution.

“I belong to both and we’re trying to form a combined honor guard with Legion and VFW,” he said. “We’re hoping to get younger members interested and get them involved.”

One of the things Mr. Hardison wanted to do was make sure the honor guard was properly equipped and dressed for the ceremony.

Thanks to the Highway 55 Grill in Dunn, the combined honor guard was able to raise enough money to at least get a good head start on new uniforms.

He said uniforms are about $100 apiece and each unit needs anywhere from three to seven members to do things properly. “We did pretty good the other night,” Mr. Hardison said. “We raised around $337 in donations and we will probably get about $150 to $160 from Highway 55.”

The restaurant will soon present a check to the organization equal to 10 percent of the profits from the night the fundraiser was conducted.

“Tuesday is the only night they do that sort of thing,” he said. “It’s their slowest night and they were really happy with the turnout.”

The uniforms are just one part of the overall need for the new combined honor guard. In addition to uniforms, the unit will also soon be getting new weapons to use during the traditional three round volley.

“We raised some money for uniforms and now we are in the process of ordering the weapons,” he said. “The government is involved so it takes a lot of paperwork and time to get cleared to get the weapons.”

Normally, the honor guard consists of three members who will fire the volley of shots, two members to fold the flag and one to collect the empty shell casings and include them in the final fold of the flag before it is handed to the surviving family members.

“We can do a military funeral with six or seven people,” he said. “We try to do a seven-man salute, but normally we do three or five with the rifles.”

Mr. Hardison is still looking to add to the list of volunteers to serve in the honor guard. The qualifications are fairly simple.

Participants must be a member in good standing of any American Legion or VFW post and must have the physical ability to perform one of the duties of the honor guard.

“It’s not strenuous, the heaviest thing is lifting an 8-pound rifle,” he said. “And you have to be able to fold the flag tightly, that’s all there is to doing it.”

As for how much time it takes, well that depends on how many veterans pass away.

He estimates the honor guard is called upon only about four or five times each year. Along with training to use the weapons and to learn how to properly fold a flag, its usually a matter of just a few hours.

“A lot of the time we only get the information one day before the funeral,” he said. “It’s usually short notice and we’re trying to get the funeral homes to give us a little more notice if they can. Most of our guys are retired but we do still have some that are working, so we need time to get together.”

-The Daily Record