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American Legion Honor Guard honors the fallen

Amy Millhorn Leonard • Nov 12, 2018 at 4:30 PM

On many afternoons at Mountain Home National Cemetery, silence is broken by the sudden distinct sound of three volleys of rifle fire in salute. Gentle words are spoken by a chaplain. A United States flag draped over a casket is removed and folded ceremoniously and then presented to the loved ones of a deceased veteran. Then the familiar sound of “Taps” lilts through the air.

From these sounds, it is known that a funeral for a fallen United States veteran is being conducted. Most of those military honors funeral rituals are meticulously performed by the American Legion Honor Guard. Our United States military veterans left their homes and families and gave their time, dedication, loyalty and strength to defend this great nation. They served not only during wars, but also during peace time. While some gave their lives, thankfully many returned home, eventually back to their civilian lives. It is only fitting to commemorate these soldiers’ service and honor them in death.

Military honors funerals are not only held at the Mountain Home V.A., but also at many cemeteries throughout the Tri-Cities, Tennessee and in Southwest Virginia. The Honor Guard in this immediate area is made up of American Legion members from Post 3 of Kingsport and Post 265 of Gate City, Virginia. This long-standing, strictly-volunteer group of veterans, most retired from post-military-service jobs, spends much of its time dedicated to honoring other military members by providing this service.

“We are not paid. We do not solicit funds or charge for our services. We only ask for donations from veterans families to assist with van fuel and maintenance and other expenses,” says Honor Guard Commander Gerald Cardwell.

Local funeral homes like Carter-Trent, Hamlett-Dobson and Oak Hill funeral homes and Trinity Memorial Center sponsor the Honor Guard and call upon their services frequently. Commander Cardwell works with these and other local funeral homes and cemeteries as well as the Mountain Home V.A. to provide these honorable funerals with his team of 24 Honor Guard volunteer members.

Each funeral is attended by 12 to 15 members. Families are presented a flag and a grave marker, given by the U.S. Government. Who is eligible for a military honors funeral? Any military veteran discharged with an “honorable discharge” is eligible. The American Legion Honor Guard stays busy throughout the year.

“Between January and November 4, 2018, we have served at 225 funerals and 14 special events. In 2017, there were 283 funerals and 27 events as far away as Pennington Gap, Virginia,” Commander Cardwell says. He has been volunteering for the Honor Guard for 15 years now and has logged over 10,000 volunteer hours himself.

The American Legion Honor Guard also participates at several events throughout the year usually for Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Memorial Day in May, as well as other holidays and events. The group marches in parades and conducts flag ceremonies upon request.

“One of our favorite events for Veterans Day is at Duffield Elementary School in Duffield, Virginia. The kids put on a special show for us and feed us lunch,” Commander Cardwell said.

There are also American Legion Honor Guards in Carter and Hawkins counties.

Calling all Veterans! The Honor Guard needs volunteers to continue this valuable service tradition. Each veteran volunteer is provided a uniform and asked to join the American Legion. Members meet at one of two designated pickup sites and are transported by van to funerals and events; some meals are paid for as well.

“We are always looking for veteran volunteers. I am sorry to say we have had some members to pass away recently,” the commander says solemnly.” He continues, “This is a somewhat physically demanding duty, so we ask potential volunteers to accompany us to several funerals before committing to the Honor Guard.” Volunteers are honored at a yearly appreciation banquet at Mountain Home V.A.

To inquire about services, to make a donation or to learn more about becoming a volunteer for this special duty, contact Commander Gerald Cardwell at (423) 357-7446 or visit their Facebook page at American Legion Hammond Post 3. To learn more about the American Legion, visit www.legion.org.

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