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
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
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.
[to top of second column]
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
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
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.