DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY: Honor guard bears witness and tribute to those who have served


GREENFIELD — Though he’s heard it hundreds of times, the soul-stirring sound of “Taps” coming from a lone bugler makes the hair stand up on the back of Don Carson’s neck. Every single time.

As a member of the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard, he hears the evocative tune about 50 times a year — when he and the other 25 honor guard members provide military tributes at veterans’ funerals and community events.

Today, the honor guard will take part in the annual Hometown Heroes ceremony at 5:30 p.m. in the Living Alley in downtown Greenfield — paying tribute to the nearly 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

The ceremony — along with a community bean bag toss tourney — has been held every Sept. 11 since 2014. The two years prior to that, the guard held its own 9/11 tribute in the Hancock County Veterans Park in downtown Greenfield.

It’s a great way to honor both the civilians and first-responders who lost their lives 19 years ago, said Bob Workman, who has commanded the Greenfield honor guard for nearly as long.

Currently, 26 men from their mid-40s to early 90s comprise the guard, although a few are currently not taking part in events due to health issues.

Workman, 73, a Vietnam combat veteran, leads the group through each ceremony — barking out the commands that lead them through presenting the flag and firing off a 21-gun salute. At veterans’ funerals, he presents a neatly folded American flag to the next of kin.

At the Living Alley today, the guard members will march solemnly out in the Living Alley, single file, before a crowd of onlookers. As they do each year, the group will stand at attention as a singer renders “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and the sound of “Taps” rings out.

Carson will likely get goosebumps, just as he always does.

“It’s an honor for us to pay tribute to those who have died and those who have served,” said Carson, 72, a former Marine who served in the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1972.

“It’s especially great when you see the community come out. Seeing other people who respect the military, who say thanks for serving, always brings a tear to the eye,” he said.

Carson also loves recognizing those who devote their lives to saving others every day. “It’s great getting to recognize our firefighters, police and EMTs, and the nurses and doctors. That’s what our country is all about,” he said.

Fellow guard member Walt Baran agrees. As second-in-command of the honor guard and also commander at the Greenfield VFW, he sees it as privilege to honor those who have served the United States in various capacities — from war veterans to emergency medical technicians.

He’s also humbled by the opportunity to pay his respects at fellow veterans’ funerals, where he and fellow guard members honor the deceased.

His reason for taking part in the honor guard is simple: “So that all my brothers and sisters can get their final hoorah. They deserve it, because they stood up and served. They fought for our flag and kept this country safe,” said Baran, who served in the Navy from 1983 to 2003, including war-time tours in the Middle East.

Workman, who served in the Marines from 1964 to 1970, said serving in the military is a tie that binds throughout time — no matter your age or military branch.

“We all have experienced some fun and some not fun things. It’s a brotherhood that people who have never served will never understand,” he said.

It’s that unbreakable bond that motivates the local guard members to keep showing up at their military brothers’ and sisters’ funerals, and at community events honoring those who have served.

Even members like Max Wean, who even in his 90s has been an active member of the guard, although health issues have him currently sitting out.

When the honor guard marched single file into the Living Alley for past Hometown Heroes tributes, Wean was right there, with his rifle strapped to his chest, balancing himself on a cane.

As the guard stood at attention throughout the 30-minute ceremony, Wean stood at attention too, even setting his cane behind him out of view. When it came time for the 21-gun salute, he fired his rifle and shots rang out in the air, the sound echoing off the brick walls behind him. He then nonchalantly grabbed his cane from behind him to steady himself, did a sharp about face with the rest of the guard, and marched away.

Workman said it’s not uncommon to see guard members who are serving despite health and mobility challenges.

“We get a lot of guys who aren’t in the best of health, but they push themselves out there to get it done. Some have bad knees, bad backs, who have some trouble walking or standing, but they’re still out there,” Workman said.

Carson considers it a privilege to work alongside fellow veterans a generation older than himself. “They’re the ones who came before us. The older veterans have our respect, and it’s an honor to serve with them,” he said.

“When we’re out there together, it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and they’re there under all conditions. It just speaks to their love of country,” Carson said.

The guard is an all-volunteer group. Everyone chips in and buys their startup uniform, and other expenses are covered by donations, Workman said. Once a year, the group has a party to socialize and thank their spouses for their support, since taking part in the guard can mean taking dozens of days a year to attend funerals or community gatherings.

“We do about 50 funerals and about 15 other functions a year,” said Workman, although COVID-19 slowed that number down considerably this year.

At funerals, in addition to giving each veteran’s next-of-kin a folded American flag, Workman presents them with a commemorative coin that says “All gave some, some gave all.”

Family members are also given a shell casing from each of the three volleys fired during the 21-gun salute. The three pieces stand for duty, honor and country.

At the end of each funeral, honor guard members stand by the casket and salute the deceased, before the solemn sound of “Taps” once again fills the air.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard is an all-volunteer organization that runs strictly on donations. Commander Bob Workman said the group is always seeking new members, as well as donations. For information, call Workman at 317-590-2581.

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Two local 9/11 tributes are taking place today (Sept. 11):

When: Noon

Where: Southern Hancock Veterans Memorial, located in Sugar Creek Township Park on South County Road 700W, just south of U.S. 52.

When: 5:30 p.m.

Where: The Living Alley, just southwest of State and North streets in downtown Greenfield

Both events are slated to last about 30 minutes.