Volunteers provide final rites for vets

Posted

When the scheduling call comes in, Kathy Kraski begins the process of lining up eight volunteers who will serve as an honor guard and fire the 21-gun salute at a military funeral.

“We are called the Fort Logan team and are part of the All Veterans Honor Guard formed to make sure the 21-gun salute would be fired at all military funerals,” she said. “There are six groups in the metro area and, last year, the All Veterans Honor Guard fired the salutes at more than 1,015 funerals.”

An honor guard for a military funeral is seven members with rifles and an eighth member who gives the commands. The Fort Logan All Veterans Honor Guard wears dark blue windbreakers, gray slacks and white shirts. They use M-1 Garand rifles to fire the 21-gun salute. The rifles and the blank ammunition are supplied by the Army.

The traditional military funeral includes a graveside service, followed by the 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.” Many times, “Taps” is a recording, but the All Veterans Honor Guard tried to make sure there is a 21-gun salute fired at each veteran’s funeral.

There are All Veterans Honor Guard groups in Aurora, Littleton, Arvada, Castle Rock, Littleton and Lakewood, in addition to the Fort Logan group out of the Englewood-Sheridan area.

The first veterans honor guard was started about 1993 and, by 1995, the demand for service was enough that additional honor guards were organized. The only requirement to be part of the honor guard is the individual be a veteran of military service and physically able to stand at attention or parade rest for the duration of the funeral.

Kraski noted that funerals are held in all kinds of weather, including when it is raining, snowing or in temperatures ranging from lows of about 6 degrees to summer days with temperatures in the high 90s or above.

The Fort Logan group is made up of about 20 volunteers, most of them members of Verle Huffman Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9644 in Sheridan. There are also volunteers from a couple American Legion, posts plus a couple volunteers who don’t belong to any veterans’ organization. Volunteers live all over the metro area, including Denver, Longmont, Littleton and Elizabeth.

Kraski decided to join the Fort Logan group when she attended a military funeral and saw the All Veterans Honor Guard in action.

“I said to myself that I could do the honor guard duty and, about five years ago, I joined our group,” the Douglas County resident said. “Somehow I sort of got volunteered to head the group which means, when I get the call assigning us to a funeral, I get on the phone and round up the honor guard to go to the cemetery.”

She said the oldest member of the Fort Logan honor guard is a 95-year-old World War II veteran. She said just about all the members are retirees, and she said she is proud of the fact the Fort Logan honor guard includes four women and is the only group in the metro area with women members.

Members of some honor guards buy their own uniforms, but Kraski has come up with a way to earn money to buy uniforms for the volunteers.

“I had all our volunteers go through their homes and come up with stuff they wanted to get rid of,” she said. “I sorted it out and contacted eBay about selling them. The people at eBay have been very helpful and the sales have gone well enough that we have uniforms for current members and some in stock for future members.”

Most of the funerals are at Fort Logan National Cemetery, but the honor guard does funerals for some veterans who are buried at private cemeteries.