Thursday, January 12, 2006 5:08 a.m. ET
By PATRICK CONDON Associated Press Writer
DULUTH, Minn. (AP) -- Already stressed by the pace of funerals for aging veterans, the leader of an honor guard is incensed by the Army's refusal to allow him to replenish his ranks with the adult children of vets.
The problem is a little-known federal statute that bars the Army from giving ceremonial M-1 rifles that are fired during a poignant part of most military funerals to honor guards with non-veteran members.
"They want to honor veterans, I don't know why they shouldn't be able to do it," said John Marshall, captain of the Duluth Combined Honor Guard, a group comprised of Legionnaires, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other service organizations.
An estimated 1,800 military veterans die every day across the country, and honor guards such as the one in this northern Minnesota city are struggling to keep up with serving at as many as two or three funerals per day.
Marshall, an Army veteran who served in the first Gulf War, would like to supplement his honor guard with members of the Sons of the American Legion _ a group comprised of the sons of veterans that is affiliated with the American Legion.
"These are our sons and grandsons; these are responsible people. It shouldn't be an issue," said Mike Duggan, the Washington-based deputy director of foreign affairs for the American Legion, a nationwide veterans service organization with more than 3 million members.
Army officials, though, said the rule is a necessary one.
"These veterans, they've been in the military, they know how to handle a military issue weapon," said Ed Wolverton, chief of the Army donations program at the U.S. Army TACOM Lifestyle Management Command in Warren, Mich. "The sons are often younger folks; they're teenagers sometimes. They've maybe not been trained properly on these weapons _ we don't know that. But the vets have."
Wolverton said he has little power to investigate whether honor guards around the country are following the statute. But he won't give weapons or ammunition to those he knows aren't, and said if he finds out the rules are being broken, he will repossess the materials.
It would take an act of Congress to change the rifle statute, Wolverton said. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, whose district includes Duluth, said the congressman is looking into the issue.
Many veterans organizations around the country didn't know about the statute, and said they regularly augment their honor guards with members of the Sons of the American Legion. But when Marshall tried to do just that, the Army told him no.
The Duluth Combined Honor Guard has about 30 members, but Marshall said he can only count on about a dozen to be regularly available to attend veterans' funerals _ not only in Duluth but in surrounding communities where local veterans organizations are having even more serious membership problems.
"Some of our guys are 86, 89 years old," Marshall said. "There are some younger guys, but they have families, jobs. They don't have time to be running to 11 or 12 funerals a week."
In 1999, Congress passed a law ensuring that all veterans could receive full military honors at their funerals. But it failed to include much money for the practice, and the military has largely turned to veterans organizations to provide the service. A few states grant small stipends to honor guards, but Minnesota does not.
Marshall said his group's expenses, such as buying uniforms and transportation, are covered by veterans' families who are willing to make donations, and by fundraising. Still, he said, "as long as I'm commander, I won't turn anyone down _ anytime, anywhere."
Pat Hogan, commander of the American Legion Post in Keokuk, Iowa, said he regularly augments his honor guard with Sons of the American Legion members _ and didn't know it was against the rules.
"It should be up to us to take care of our own," Hogan said. "I don't think these guys going to their final rest would mind at all."
IMO....... No way!
As a sidebar,
The Marine Corps League does a lot of this around here. They wear blues.
They were interested in a little help from other brach vets
Equivalent Army uniform is Mess Blues or whatever they're called, but Army blues are damned expensive.
I wanted to pitch in a while back, but realized i couldn't afford the uniform.
This was almost 10 years ago, and we were losing 1000 ww2 vets/week back then.
Back on track: If the non vets are wearing civvies, OK. It's a sign of respect. But not in uniform unless you served.
And im sure there's plenty of active duty/reserve/retired folks that woudl be more than willing to step up. I sure would if it was local.
Hell no! An Honor Guard should be your comrades in arms. Preferably from your branch of service, but they should at least been in the military. No civilian understands what veterans went through. Even if they did not go to war they have a clue to what it is like. An Honor Guard for a veteran needs to be composed of veterans. Civilians can honor the veteran, any way they want but they should not be allowed in the Honor Guard.