The Honor Guard from the American Legion Post 18 performs military funeral honors for numerous fallen comrades across the state. The services provided are done as a last honor to those who served and legion members view it as their duty to do so.
It’s an honor among veterans and it’s just something you do, the volunteers agreed. Mourners at these funerals often assume that the military coordinates the ceremony, but in reality, the military is required to send two active duty personnel to fold and present the flag. Other than that, the family or funeral home will request the presents of the Honor Guard.
“Most funeral homes don't even call the military, unless the family requests it. They call us to do it,” Lynn Young, commander of the American Legion Post 18 said.
Last Friday, the group did a service at Camp Nelson National Cemetery for David Edwards Cocanougher, a U.S. Navy veteran from Boyle County. The number of volunteers for services varies from day-to-day and for this funeral an eight man crew was present. Some Legion members are reluctant to join the Honor Guard, mainly due to the fact that they have been out of the service for years “and don’t know where to get started again,” volunteer Bill Chester said. Once they witness what it means to the families, it’s no wonder that they continue to participate. “You get a good feeling and pride out of it,” Army veteran William Hubbard said.
Though they are based out of Stanford, Young and his volunteers travel across the state to perform last honors for veterans. They have been to Pulaski, Casey, Rockcastle, Boyle, Washington, Anderson, Garrard and the list goes on and on. “Anything is reasonable,” Young said.
While Post 18 covers a majority of the surrounding territory, there are smaller units that pick up some of the work. A small group operates out of Casey County and Science Hill has a larger group that does a majority of Pulaski County. Danville used to have a group, but they have now joined up with Stanford.
Young estimates that they will do 80-100 funerals a year and that it is not uncommon to do 3-4 in a day. Hubbard said that just last week the group performed honors at three funerals in one day.
Honor Guard ceremonies include the firing of three rifle volleys and the playing of Taps. At the Cocanougher funeral, the family had coordinated to have a bugler perform Taps, though the Honor Guard can provide one if needed. Taps dates back to the Civil War and was created in July 1862 after the bloody Seven Days battles at Harrison’s Landing near Richmond, Virginia. Union General Daniel Butterfield, Commander of the Army of the Potomac, and his bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton, came up with Taps. Both the Union and Confederate units used Taps to replace the more formal bugle tune Lights Out. In 1874 it was officially used by the U.S. Army and in 1891 it was a standard inclusion at military funerals.
Young has been the Post 18 Commander since the beginning of this year, but had served as vice commander for years. He is also the 8th District Commander and there are 13 posts in the district. American Legion is also responsible for promoting flag advocacy to children. They do several school programs teaching students about the flag, such as the folds and history of one of America’s greatest symbols. Young said that many people are under the impression that the military pays for us to participate at these funerals, but they don’t. The state does reimburse the group a certain rate, depending on the services performed, but it usually does not exceed $60. With each uniform costing around $360, more outside funds are required. Post 18 holds yard sales and raffles in an effort to raise money. They also gladly accept donations.
Volunteer Henry James served in the Army National Guard and is the youngest member of Post 18. In 2005 he was injured in Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. He suffered injuries from shrapnel, but finished his tour in 2006.
He joined the group in 2007 and has been doing it ever since. I’m glad I joined this group,” James said. “These guys don’t get enough appreciation for what they do.”
At the end of the service on Friday, the only reward for the men of Post 18 was a simple handshake and a heartfelt thank you.