“Taps” floats on the wind and the ricochet of rifle fire echoes about 100 times each year as the Amherst Veterans Military Honor Guard pays solemn respects to those who served the United States in uniform.
Standing final watch at the burials of heroes is a calling for the group’s 20-odd members.
But as they advance in age — the average among the grizzled old warriors is 70 — just getting to the cemetery to perform those rites has become more and more of a problem.
Commander Clark Bruner said the honor guard’s 2002 Ford van is in bad shape. Worse, it is too small and cramped for many aging veterans to use as they travel far and wide, often making the hour trek to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman.
“It’s to the point I don’t want to ride to Rittman on what I’ve got,” he said Monday of the poor condition the 13-person van is in.
Fixing the problem will be easy, as long as the money is there.
That’s where the Amherst honor guard needs help.
Bruner and company have found a used 20-man bus at a Toledo dealership that will suit the guard’s needs for years to come. The price tag is $30,000.
So far, the honor guard has $8,500 in pocket toward the purchase and a tentative pledge of $8,000 from another source. That will cover a little more than half the cost of the vehicle.
Bruner is looking to the kindness of strangers to help fund the other half so Amherst veterans can continue to offer respect to fallen brothers and sisters in uniform.
“It’s part of continuing our service,” said honor guard member John Sekletar. “The families are very appreciative. It means a lot to them. If there’s one person there or a lot of people there, it doesn’t matter to us. It’s for the family.”
Requests for the Amherst Veterans Military Honor Guard’s services have skyrocketed in the past four years.
At one point, the squad was conducting rites twice daily at burials across the region but the pace put quite a strain on the volunteer guard.
Jim Uldrich, 83, participated in his first such ceremony in 1948. He continues today, even though the strain is great and his back (for which he recently had surgery) aches.
“You still get a tear in your eye when they play ‘Taps,’ because that’s the end,” he said, reflecting on his years of service graveside. “You really lean on each other. You know you have somebody’s back. It’s a real tight fraternity. People don’t understand. Unless you’ve been there, you don’t understand… It’s quite the honor to do that and I hope someone does it for us when we hang it up.”
“Every one of us are veterans. I don’t want to see (any) veteran leave here until he gets his rites,” Bruner said.
The honor guard is a joint effort of American Legion Post 118 and VFW Post 1664 in Amherst.
To learn how to give to the Amherst Veterans Military Honor Guard, call the Legion at 440-984-3662.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Courtesy photo The Amherst Veterans Military Honor Guard travels all over the area offering final rites to brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Now members are asking help to purchase a used bus to get to cemeteries.