DECATUR, Ill. — During a cold week in late January, the Macon County Honor Guard performed military rites on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday for departed veterans.
Such dedication is not unusual for the honor guard, and in fact, the members themselves expect that they will be there whether it is raining, snowing, hot, cold, in Decatur or out of town.
No matter the circumstances, the honor guard is there.
“We are extremely proud to perform these last tributes of respect, and we thank the families for allowing us to do so,” said Rudy Escobar, the commander of the 31-man volunteer group.
When the honor guard agrees to attend a funeral as a free service, David Freyling, the chaplain, sends information to the funeral home for the memorial page. The text reads: “The rain came down steadily as the thunder rolled in the distance like the memory of an artillery barrage unleashed in a battle fought long ago. Three sharp volleys of rifle fire by the Guard of Honor, then the beautiful haunting 24 notes of Taps, then did I know this veteran’s soul had found peace at last. Let us not mourn the departed, but rather thank God that such a man lived.”
The uniformed honor guard members assemble at the cemetery. There is a color guard, a seven-man firing squad, a rendition of taps, a spoken ritual by the chaplain, a folding the flag presentation, and it is all accomplished with dignity and respect.
“We are dedicated,” said Pete Frank, a 10-year member and the oldest at 87. “We volunteer our time and effort.”
Frank’s father came to the United States in 1909 from Crete. Frank served in the Navy during World War II; his son Bill is in the Navy Bureau of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and a grandson, also named Bill, is a Navy fighter pilot aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
Honor guard members keep a busy schedule. During 2012, 137 funerals were attended, and on 27 occasions, there were two funerals on the same day. Forty-three funerals were outside of Decatur. According to statistics from the Veterans Assistance Commission of Macon County, the honor guard traveled a total of 3,852 miles.
In addition to funerals, the honor guard attends Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Pearl Harbor Day remembrances, and flag presentations, as well as patriotic services for school assemblies, churches, colleges and conventions. When the World War II Memorial was dedicated in September at the Decatur Civic Center, the honor guard was there.
Escobar, a World War II Marine Corps veteran, and Jim Parker, an Army veteran, founded the honor guard in 1995. Since then, the calculation is that 3,057 funerals have been attended, 86,200 miles traveled and 64,197 rounds of ammunition used.
Randy Earl of Brintlinger and Earl Funeral Homes knows the value of the honor guard.
“There is no amount of money that can value what their presence does for a family,” Earl said. “Their participation in honoring that family’s loved one who has died is the greatest thing that could ever be done.”