Military funeral honors program statutory benefit to all veterans

By Greg Miller
STAR STAFF
gmiller@starhq.com

   Military funeral honors (MHF) have become a statutory benefit to all veterans effective Jan 1, 2000, with the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1999, according to Donald Koontz, military funeral honors coordinator for the Tennessee National Guard.
   "The policy ensures that, upon request, a funeral honors detail is provided for the funeral of any deceased authorized veteran, and that a funeral honors detail be provided consisting of two or more members of the armed forces, and at least one member of the armed forces of which the veteran was a member," Koontz said. "It is important that a member of an active component (active duty, reserve or national guard) be involved in the funeral process so that information can be reported to the Department of Defense of the honors rendered for the deceased veteran. The remainder of the funeral honors detail may consist of members of the armed forces or members, when available, of veteran's organizations (VFW, American Legion, etc.) or other organizations approved by the Adjutant General (i.e., Tennessee State Guard, ROTC, etc.).
   "It is expected that the state of Tennessee will lose approximately 13,000 veterans annually between now and 2010. For this reason, the Tennessee Army National Guard has established Military Funeral Honors teams across the state to meet the ever increasing demand for military funerals. Due to the large number of expected deaths of Tennessee veterans, the Tennessee Army National Guard has made a concerted effort to establish partnerships between the National Guard and the various veteran's organizations. To this end, representatives from the Tennessee Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors program have visited with many of the veteran's organizations across the state in an effort to establish partnerships by coordinating training times and consolidating standard operating procedures. These efforts have built the foundation for long-lasting partnerships; however, in some areas of the state no partnerships have been established. Regardless of this fact, the Tennessee Army National Guard has continued with its mission, visiting with the many funeral homes across the state, educating the funeral home directors of the rights of our Tennessee veterans and their families and the capabilities of the Tennessee Army National Guard and its partners, thereby increasing the number of military honors rendered in the state."
   Koontz says, "It has never been the intent of the Tennessee Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program to disallow another organization from rendering military funeral honors to our Tennessee veterans. It has always been the goal of the National Guard to establish this multi-organization partnership across the state in order to provide military funeral honors for all families that request these services. Above all else, our mission has always been about honoring our veterans."
   "We are going to continue to service this area," said Harold Hubbard, VFW Post 2166 Quartermaster. "Whenever a family specifically asks for the VFW Honor Guard, we will try to be there, realizing that we are World War II veterans. Some of our guys are in their mid-80s, most of them are in their late 70s, as I am. We are to the point to where it is very difficult to for us to get around to these different locations that we have to go to. Furthermore, it's very difficult for us to staff an honor guard, realizing that you should have 13-14 members present for each military funeral in order to do it properly the way the military indicates.
   "The Honor Guard of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, since we have started keeping records, we have provided services for well over 800 veterans that have requested our services. Now that there is a replacement in Gray, Tenn., of younger gentlemen and younger, military-trained people, we will continue to do our work on a specific request and for our members of the post. We have gotten to the point to where it's very difficult for us to get out. We have appointments at the VA. We have appointments to take our wives to the doctor.
   "Most of us are retired, and we are elderly. We're not saying that we have thrown the towel in. We're saying that it is very difficult for us to continue and pay the insurance on the van that we travel in. It's very expensive now. It's well over $1,200 a year, and we have to get money from donations just to keep us going. We take the money that we get from donations and pay the insurance on the van. We also take the money and buy uniforms, normally going to flea markets and places like that or members of the Honor Guard. We have tried diligently among ourselves to get new members, younger and able. We have not been able to accomplish that. We are continuing with all these guys. Some of them have been with us for many, many years, 12, 14, 15 years. I came on in 1988, when I retired from Raytheon. As to what the future will be in regards to this Honor Guard, depends on the health of each one of us that is now serving.
   "We do the very best we can and, mind you, we're not the sharpest and we're not in the military type, so we might not fire all at the same time, we might not do everything just exactly like we're supposed to do it, but we do the very best we can. If families of deceased veterans want us under those circumstances, then we will serve."
   Last year, the organization conducted a fundraising drive. "We raised better than $3,000," Hubbard said. "We want to thank the community and all of the people that contributed to that drive. We take those funds to buy uniforms for our members. We also use those funds to pay for insurance and the gasoline that we use in the military funerals.
   "Whenever color guards are requested in the area, we will continue to do that and provide the Colors for organizations for different functions that they're having."
   In addition to Hubbard, members of the honor guard include Warren Ashley, Paul Benfield, Charlie Bowers, Roy Carriger, Hearley Carroll, Ted Carter, Marvin Elliott, Earl Ellis, Ken Lyons, Paul Souder, Herman Arnold, and Ken Nidiffer.