New York State Funeral Directors Association

The news media had a comfortable spot in the shade to snap photos as the remains of a long lost WWII pilot arrived at the airport.

Meanwhile, a group of veterans serving as Honor Guards were standing in the hot sun on the airport tarmac, saluting the flag-draped coffin being offloaded from an airplane.

These volunteers – who pay for the uniforms they wear – are the target of an organized effort a funeral director started to show them some appreciation.

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion chapters already paid their dues in humid jungles, on rough seas and in cramped aircraft.

But they continue to serve because they hold dear the value of bestowing honor on all of their brothers and sisters who make the ultimate sacrifice defending America.

Operation Honor Guard is taking up a collection to buy these veterans – most of them senior citizens – some new uniforms they can wear with pride.

STARTED BY A FUNERAL DIRECTOR

Funeral Director Rich Darby began Operation Honor Guard after conducting a veteran’s funeral service in Illinois, according to the nonprofit’s website.HonorGuardsforUnclaimed

He was sweltering in the heat and noticed members of the Honor Guard were more than 70 years old and sweating.

Their uniforms were worn out and he noticed “mismatched pants, frayed flags and faded hats.”

These veterans serve their brethren in all weather conditions without pay or much recognition and Darby decided to do something.

So he started Operation Honor Guard, a nonprofit which held successful fundraising events in four different states in 2016.

Their goal now: to “Outfit Every Honor Guard in the United States.”

Organizations providing honor guard services are able to request help to get some new uniforms right from the group’s website.

They can get grants from Operation Honor Guard, the amount depends on the size of the community they serve, the number of funerals they perform each year and other factors.

Headgear and jackets, gloves and trousers, belts and shoes, flags and other hardware can cost upwards of $800 for an individual Honor Guard volunteer, according to the group.

But they aren’t asking donors for a lot – the website’s donation page enables people to contribute anything from $1 to $1,000 and any other amount.

DECLINING NUMBERS, SHRINKING SERVICES

Though the U.S. has seen hundreds and thousands of “new” veterans return to American soil long after the World Wars and the wars in Vietnam and Korea, service organizations like the American Legion and VFW are shrinking in numbers.

If the decline continues, people today may be the last to even see these veterans organize and display their respect when a local soldier is brought home to a grieving community.

In the past two decades, hundreds of VFW posts have closed down and membership has shrunk by roughly 30 percent.

And the American Legion has lost about a million members nationwide during that time.

These organizations are working to modernize their offerings and make them more attractive to today’s veterans, but it’s unclear yet if that will be successful.

Couple that with the fickle nature of federal funding. In times past, cuts in funding have cut the availability of active service members able to perform Military Funeral Honors.

Maybe a showing of support from the nation’s non-military population – we who live comfortably under the umbrella of our military’s protection – might encourage more people to join.


 

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association