A final honor

Volunteers determined to give every Baldwin County veteran a hero’s farewell

By Allison Marlow
Posted 1/12/18

Thirteen folds of a flag, three volleys of gunfire, 24 notes on the bugle - three simple ceremonies that take just minutes to deliver.

The men and women who earn them sacrificed for their nation. …

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A final honor

Volunteers determined to give every Baldwin County veteran a hero’s farewell

Posted

Thirteen folds of a flag, three volleys of gunfire, 24 notes on the bugle - three simple ceremonies that take just minutes to deliver.

The men and women who earn them sacrificed for their nation. Some gave their lives.

In Baldwin County, a group of former service members are working to make sure that everyone who wore the uniform is honored properly at their burial.

“Personally this is an honor for me to do honors for them,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Phillip Tipp. “For their dependents and for the soldier or sailor they are getting the respect they need to receive during a burial.”

The handful of military retirees has poured hundreds of dollars from their own pockets into uniforms, rifles, ammunition and supplies to create the Central Baldwin County Armed Forces Honor Guard.

Their days are dictated by the needs of the fallen.

Some weeks there is just one funeral. Others, there are funerals every day, sometimes more than one in an afternoon.

The grieving families they serve, cemetery officials say, are grateful.

“To me it’s one of the more important parts of the honor that is given,” said Tony Ross, director of the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spanish Fort.

“It seems to be even more important to the family that there is actually rifle fire instead of just the playing of taps and presenting of the flag,” he said. “I’m just glad we have people out there willing to sacrifice their time and out of pocket expense to do this.”

Members of the honor guard, just 13 in all, have stood silent and stoic in driving rain. They have stood in the freezing cold until their knees began to shake. They have stood under the sweltering summer sun, silently fighting the urge to melt into the nearby shade.

They have already buried one of their own.

The group’s average age is 77. The men stress that they need more volunteers, younger men and women to come forward and help carry on the sacred duty.

“We know young people have to work and most of the funerals are during the day and people can’t get off to do that,” Tipp said. “But if it is on a Saturday I think most of them would jump to it.”

The group, which was created eight months ago, has applied for non-profit status so they can begin applying for grants to help with costs. They are also in the process of putting together a storage area for the equipment to make it easier for members to come and go after funerals.

To serve on the honor guard, military members do not have to be retired military, but they must have been honorably discharged. Members who were honorably discharged for medical reasons may join as well. Potential members will need to submit a copy of their DD form 214.

Larry DiAmco, honor guard commander, said he worries that the small group will shrink in size sooner than later and eventually, without new volunteers, the group will disappear.

“We’re looking for people to continue the tradition of rendering honors,” he said. “It’s the highest honor one soldier can pay to another.”