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Honor guard plays important role for veterans, families

Muskogee Phoenix - 2/2/2021

Feb. 2—A ceremonial three-rifle volley salute pierced the air Monday afternoon, followed by a bugler playing "Taps."

It was one of two funerals in which the Frank Gladd American Legion Post 20 honor guard honored a veteran Monday at Fort Gibson National Cemetery.

"We've got six scheduled this week," Post Commander Tim Smith said. "We've done as many as four a day."

Smith said 18 post members serve on its honor guard, which honors veterans at their funerals. He said area funeral homes call the guard when a veteran is to be honored. Usually, seven to 10 members come to a funeral.

"I think every veteran deserves this," said legion member Tom Russell. "People who serve our country deserve honors."

Russell said one of his most meaningful roles comes when he helps present the folded American flag to family members at the funeral.

"That means a lot right there," he said. "Folding that flag and presenting it to the family is a representation of how we feel about our vets. That means quite a bit to me, and it does to the family, I'm sure."

Smith said American Legions and other veterans' groups help offer full honors at veterans' funerals.

"We've got to fill in the gap," Smith said. "The military can't send a full team. Many services we do with the military, but they can't send out a rifle team, so we fill in the gap. We've got a funeral on Friday. The Navy's going to be there, but we're going to do a three round volley and 'Taps' for them."

According to the American Legion website, a three rifle volley honors a fallen veteran. The volley includes three to seven rifles firing three shots together.

"It's something that every military man and woman was promised," Smith said. "But due to the high number of services, the military cannot keep up."

The legion also presents a patriotic poem and a sympathy card to the family. Three spent cartridges from the volley are put in a felt bag and given to the family.

Members also help prepare the bier, including setting up a triangular-folded flag.

"Then we render the proper hand salute after everything is in place," Smith said.

On Monday, honor guard members ceremoniously opened and refolded the flag before presenting it.

The honor guard goes to civilian cemeteries as well.

"We did three in Webbers Falls one day," he said, adding that the honor guard has gone as far away as Tulsa, Sallisaw and Claremore.


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