Local combined honor guard working to increase ranks reduced by age, pandemic precautions

John Heinrich shoots during a funeral ceremony at Calvary Cemetery.  Heinrich is a part of the combined honor guard from the Kettering American Legion 598, Miamisburg American Legion 165 and the West Carrollton V.F.W. 3438. The groups are looking to  increase their ranks diminished by COVID-19 concerns and the course of time.
John Heinrich shoots during a funeral ceremony at Calvary Cemetery. Heinrich is a part of the combined honor guard from the Kettering American Legion 598, Miamisburg American Legion 165 and the West Carrollton V.F.W. 3438. The groups are looking to increase their ranks diminished by COVID-19 concerns and the course of time.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

An honored tradition of providing a veteran a final tribute during his or her funeral is becoming more difficult because of reduced honor guard members that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

A local combined military honor guard that provides the sacred service in the region is trying to boost its ranks to keep up with the tradition.

To offer an honor guard at ceremonies throughout the area, including funerals, coordinator and squad member Theresa Jackson of Kettering turns to members from the Miamisburg American Legion 165, West Carrollton VFW Post 3438 and Kettering American Legion 598.

But with many of the 20 members on whom she relies for such events being in their 70s and 80s, and some of them sidelined at home due to COVID-19 precautions, it has become increasingly important for the group to increase its size, Jackson said.

“We can use it (now) more than ever,” she said. “The ranks are getting older.”

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Boosting demand for the honor squad during the pandemic is the fact that other squads, including one from the Dayton VA, have temporarily disbanded for most, if not all, ceremonial events, Jackson said.

“We go wherever they need us,” she said, noting that the group has been needed as far north as Tipp City and as far south as Franklin.

Jackson said when the coronavirus pandemic first struck earlier this year, the honor guard gave its members the option of showing up for funerals. Fewer veterans being able to participate forces her into a “first come, first served” situation where she must say “no” to some families who have requested graveside honors for their loved ones.

“It just kills me to do that because ... my husband was killed (during a training exercise) when I was in the Army, so I know how important it is to be there for those families,” Jackson said.

Having more veterans be available to participate in the honor guard would increase the availability of the three clubs, all of whom are already well-prepared, she said.

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“All three of our clubs have their own honor guard van vehicle, all three have their own set of rifles,” Jackson said. “We all could be self-inclusive if we had more people to help.”

Not having as many members at their disposal due to COVID-19 concerns has meant not only having to say “no” to the family of veterans. It also meant cutting back Veterans Day ceremonies from several events to just one cemetery service.

Jackson said she remembers when she was part of the American Legion at University of Dayton and almost every individual club had its own honor guard squad.

“As things have changed ... the younger veterans, I don’t know if they’re not interested or they’re just too busy with life or what,” she said.

Veterans who were honorably discharged from the service may apply to help the combined honor guard fill its ranks, Jackson said. Training involves refamiliarizing those who need to brush up on facing movements and rifle movements and how to fold a flag, she said.

“This is basic stuff they kind of drill into your head when you’re in the service,” Jackson said.

To sign up to be a part of the combined military honor guard, call or text 937-776-9070.

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