Tuesday, May 18, 2010
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Personalities of the Week

Honoring those who honor our vets: the Lincoln American Legion Post 263 Honor Guard

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[May 18, 2010]  They gather at the American Legion Post 263 before driving off to a cemetery.

All in their white American Legion shirts, ties and garrison caps, they prepare for the day's ceremony according to how many of the 17 members are available. Bob Sullivan, co-captain of the honor guard, says that with the exception of vacations or medical situations, most members make it to the 30-odd funerals each year. So far this year, the detail has presided over 15 burials.

The group for the most part is active retirees who, with a great deal going on in their lives, still make sure they come when called.

There isn't much advance notification for a funeral: perhaps just a few days. Member C. Wayne Schrader explains, "People don't make reservations to die."

But when a Lincoln, Ill., veteran does pass on, a call to the Legion, and the honor guard members will drop whatever plans they have and gather to give the final honor, a military service, to another serviceman or woman.

Sullivan wanted it pointed out that all veterans are eligible for military rites at their burial and not just combat veterans. "Most of the time the funeral home lets the family know and then the funeral home staff contact us," he said.

Honor guard members said the types of weather conditions they have had to deal with in the job have run the gamut from excessively hot to frigid, from rain to sleet to snow. Sullivan said he remembered a funeral in Elkhart Cemetery when the honor guard had to help push cars up the ice-covered hill for the burial service.

They have been rained on many times, but the membership usually doesn't wear their ponchos, preferring to proudly display their uniforms at the passing of a fellow veteran.

Schrader interjected: "They didn't stop fighting for us when the weather got bad. The least we can do is get a little wet."

When guard members were asked why they had decided to become involved in the group, all echoed similar sentiments:

Newest member John Grimsley, about to do his first funeral, said, "To pay tribute: to honor our veterans is why I joined."

Lyle Johnson said, "The ones who served our country need to be remembered."

Bob Benedict added, "It is our way of giving the veteran their final send-off with the dignity they deserve."

The honor guard members are busy people, but they will make the time to honor every veteran who has died. Sometimes that requires a drive of a good distance, as in a case where a Legion member relocates. Sullivan remembers the guard driving up to Rockford on one occasion.

In his nine years with the honor guard, Sullivan recalls that at least three times after doing a  veteran's funeral service at Camp Butler National Cemetery, a cemetery official asked if they could stay for the next burial. And, Legion Post 263 did stay to give a proper send-off to a soldier they never met but who is still their brother in arms.

Since the year 2000, the Department of Defense has made a flag detail and taps player available at veterans' burials, but no firing detail. The honor guard from Post 263 is authorized by the DOD to use weapons, and the detail adds more to a burial service than what the government provides.

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With 17 members, the American Legion Post 263 Honor Guard is fairly large by most posts' standards. Still, there is a constant shift in the honor guard membership. Veterans who were members die, get too ill or just can't take the physical rigors of standing for a time.

Paul Aper and John Sutton are the two oldest active members, going back 20-plus years. Aper has been a member of the Hartsburg-Emden Legion's guard for three decades.

The membership now stretches from the Korean War onward, as most World War II vets have either died or have passed the job on to younger veterans.

The group always has enough members for the flag ceremony and taps, with the remainder being part of the firing detail, which offers a three-volley salute before taps is played.

Besides burial services, the honor guard performs the honors at the Memorial Day and Veterans Day services.

Paul Aper summed up the dedication of the group when he was asked why the guard takes their positions so passionately: "It's our job."

Don Werkman nodded and added, "It's an honor and a privilege."

And using those same words, we feel honored and privileged to submit the Lincoln American Legion Post 263 Honor Guard as this week's Personalities of the Week.

Editor's note: We wish to be clear that we are honored to present this story of the current honor guard. But we also wish to include in our thanks all the members of the unit going back to the 1950s, when Bernard Behrends first formed the guard. For over a half-century, Legion members have made certain the city's veterans and their sacrifices for this country are never forgotten.

The members of the current American Legion Post 263 Honor Guard are:

Phil Dehner and Bob Sullivan, co-captains.

Roger Bay, C. Wayne Schrader, Darrel White, Bob Benedict, Gary Liesman, Stuart Churchill, Jay Dellow, John Sutton, Don Werkman, Jerry Dehner, Lyle Johnson, Dave Young, Vicki Hasprey, John Grimsley and Paul Aper.



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