Photos by Derek Bell
For most of us, Veterans Day is celebrated with a day off, an opportunity to get in one last barbeque before winter closes in and, perhaps, a war film on the tube. But to 21 million Americans and their families, Veterans Day evokes much more. It is an important reminder of their years of service to our great country and the freedoms they sought to protect.
The history of Veterans Day can be traced back to the end of the Great War. The armistice signed by the warring nations set the cessation of hostilities for the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month. At that time, Nov. 11 was called Armistice Day. The United States made the holiday official in 1938 and amended it to include all veterans in 1954. Standing in contrast to Memorial Day, which serves to honor all those who gave their lives in service to our country, Veterans Day recognizes the service of all who have worn the uniform.
V3 had the sincere pleasure of meeting an extraordinary group of local veterans from the American Legion Honor Guard, all of whom take great pride in continuing to serve their country many years after their terms of enlistment ended.
Alvin Hardin spent over 15 years in the Marines and 17 years in the Army before retiring in 1985. For the last 12 years, he has served as captain of the Honor Guard, leading a dedicated group of 20 veterans who conduct military funerals throughout Northwest Georgia. (They have traveled as far as Aniston, Ala., to ensure that deceased veterans are honored appropriately and receive the stirring rites of an official military burial.) Last year alone, they attended 97 funerals.
“We are still serving our community, still serving our country,” says Kevin McGonigal, commander of the Legion and member of the Honor Guard.
Members of the Guard are volunteers; they receive no compensation aside from the honor of knowing that they are taking care of their brothers in arms. For these men, the concept of “country first” is more than just words; it is a way of life. The group is diverse, representing all eras of American history. World War II veterans Bob Bennett, Bob Lattimer and Homer Watters, all in their late 80s, are proud members of the Guard as is Danny Story, a second-generation member who is continuing the legacy passed down to him by his father, JD “Skinny” Story.
We had the great honor of accompanying the Honor Guard to a ceremony that was both moving and solemn. The 14 members of the Guard stood at attention while the casket was gently laid by the graveside. Seven members fired three rounds each to honor the fallen veteran. Differing from a 21-gun salute, the three volleys are offered as a final compliment and thank you for serving in the Armed Forces.
Two members served as flag bearers, folding the flag and presenting it to the veteran’s family. Another member collected three shells that were fired and gently inserted them into the folded flag. The three shells represent duty, honor and country. After the flag was presented, taps was played to signify the end of service. The Legion presented the family with two letters – one that details the significance of the ceremony, outlining what each part means, and expressing condolences.
These 14 members of the Honor Guard took time out of their lives to honor a man that none of them knew personally. They stood proudly in the sun for over an hour to pay homage to a fellow veteran and recognize his service. As taps played, it was a moving tribute to all veterans, even those who have never had to place themselves between the enemy and our flag.
As Veterans Day approaches, many local businesses, including Ryan’s Steakhouse, Applebee’s and O’Charley’s, are offering discounts to veterans on Nov. 11. Henderson’s Funeral Home provides meals for the Honor Guard at Ryan’s after the services at which they are in charge of the body.
In addition, the Legion will host a cookout for veterans on Nov. 11 at Post 5, located at 5 Shorter Ave., Rome. They also have a karaoke night on Fridays and live music on Saturdays. These events are open to the community and offer a support the Legion and our local veterans.
We all owe our vets more than could ever be purchased, but there are simple ways to say thank you. Buy a soldier’s lunch, donate to those who still serve our common interests or simply verbalize your gratitude. After all, service to your fellow man, and recognition of said service, is one of the outstanding characteristics of an aware and caring society.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”
We proudly salute all veterans and recognizes them for their selfless service to us all.
Learn more about the American Legion in Rome by “liking” their Facebook page or contact them directly at Post 0005, P.O. Box 945, Rome, GA 30162.