GREENFIELD — RJ Clark sees the same two faces in his mind at every funeral.
As he stands among the headstones, listening as “taps” breaks the silence, he thinks of them. His two buddies, killed on a battlefield in Korea.
He sees them in his mind’s eye, even decades later. He couldn’t attend their funerals, didn’t have a chance to mourn them alongside their families, didn’t get to hear a bugle play, marking their loss. Now, every time he stands on a cemetery lawn, alongside the other members of the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard, he thinks of those old friends.
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Clark is one of two dozen local veterans making up the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard, the troupe that throughout the year provides ceremonial sendoffs at funerals and attends public events as ambassadors of veterans community.
It can be difficult at times to find enough guard members to lead these time-honored ceremonies, which call for at least 11 people for each event. So, to ensure the community’s needs are met, local officials are working to boost the group’s numbers. Commander Bob Workman, also the county’s veterans services officer, wants to see younger veterans step forward and join the honor guard to continue the organization’s legacy of community service and ensure every veteran receives the honors they’ve earned.
The challenges facing the troupe are myriad. Life, family and health can get in the way of members being able to participate, and sometimes, the troupe must adjust its funeral ceremony to make up for being a few people short.
Age can be an issue, too, Workman said. Many of those on the honor guard’s 26-name roster are past retirement; their youngest member is in his early 50s, and they’ve had members who participated well past their 90th birthdays.
And there’s no shortage of need for those men and women to represent the military in the community.
At local events — they pile up around Veterans Day, Workman said — they serve as a reminder of the generations of the soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines, who have fought for freedom, standing at attention, often with flags at their fronts, in a display of dignity and respect. At funerals, they perform a military ceremony that includes folding an American flag, presenting it to the veteran’s family, playing “Taps” and firing a 21-gun salute.
They attend some 45 funerals a year to pay their respects to fellow veterans, Workman said.
It’s not always an easy job,but it’s rewarding in so many ways, members said.
Honor guard member Dave Pasco ran a funeral home for years in Greenfield after returning to Hancock County after his years as a solider in the Vietnam War. He remembers regularly calling up the local American Legion, which ran the county’s honor guard at the time, whenever a veteran had died.
The honor guard answered the call every time without fail. Some among their members, especially in the earliest days when Pasco worked as a funeral director, were World War I veterans. Their act of service inspired him, he said.
“I always respected that somehow, some way, these men found time to come up the cemetery to preform that ceremony,” Pasco said. “I decided then that if I had the time and my health, I wanted to do that.”
Walt Baran was a member of a naval honor guard during his years as an enlisted sailor. He was stationed in New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, and he remembers attending two or three funerals a day for weeks after the terror attacks on the World Trade Centers, helping pay respects to firefighters, police officers and veterans who perished that day.
He joined the local honor guard when he moved to Greenfield. Those days he spends in a cemetery, a flag clutched in his hand or a rifle held stiff at his side, are a way to show gratitude and respect, all while revisiting the discipline and honor he learned in the military.
And anybody who served, no matter the branch or the time, deserves to have their service acknowledged at the end of their life, Baran said.
“I want to be here for them to get that recognition,” he said. “… To say goodbye to our brothers, to let them know we were here for them.”
The honor guard’s work in Hancock County stretches beyond funerals, Workman said. The group is a formal nonprofit organization, and it often gives money to groups that help veterans. Any grant money the group receives is typically used to purchase boxes of American flags so members can replace — free of charge — any tattered or faded flag they see around town, he said.
Their work is met with appreciation, no matter where they go, member Norm Davis said, and that makes some of the tougher days a little easier.
Knowing that they’re part of a legacy of military and community service is part of what makes being a member of the honor guard so rewarding. They realize someday, someone else will do all this for them, in their memory.
“We honor others because someday we will be honored,” Davis said.
Those interested in joining the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard can contact Commander Bob Workman for more information.
Call the Hancock County Veterans Service Office at 317-462-8767.