2016 Person of the Year: Honor Guard
They attend about 100 funerals each year for veterans, providing a solemn and dignified sendoff, sometimes standing for hours in the freezing cold or blistering heat.
The Honor Guard marches in parades, and attends numerous local community services – Memorial Day, the opening ceremonies for the County Fair, Sept. 11 and Pearl Harbor memorial services, and many other events.
There are Honor Guards in Medina and a combined group from Albion and Holley. Each group has about a dozen regular volunteers and they usually range in age from 60 to their early 90s.
The Albion-Holley and Medina groups will often work together for a funeral. They want a good turnout to pay their respects.
Holley and Albion have been working in a combined unit for about 20 years. Some of the members in the Honor Guard are World War II veterans in their 90s.
Many communities struggle to have enough volunteers for the Honor Guard and veterans may come in from outside the community.
Orleans County still has a dedicated corps, but the Honor Guard members worry about that, especially as many of the veterans get older.
“We are always looking for people,” said Jim Freas, who leads the group from Medina.
Freas, 78, said the Honor Guard from Medina has 9 to 14 regular members. They go to about 40-50 funerals a year, as well as many community events.
Freas said the military funerals are a priority. The Honor Guard will fold the American flag and present it to the veteran’s family. They will give a gun salute and play Taps, either with a live bugler or with a recording.
Sometimes they even serve as pallbearers and the chaplain may be asked to pray.
“I’m very proud to do it,” Freas said. “I think every veteran deserves the honor of a military funeral.”
Every veteran who has been honorably discharged is entitled to a military funeral, free of charge. The Honor Guard detail needs to include at least two members of the Armed Forces. The veteran is also entitled to ceremony that includes the folding of a flag and the playing of Taps.
Earl Schmidt, director of the Veterans Service Agency in Orleans County, said the Honor Guard attends about 100 military funerals each year in the county.
“The veterans in the Honor Guard help each other,” Schmidt said. “It’s showing respect for the veterans who served their country.”
Schmidt worries about the Honor Guard in 10-15 years. The group will need other veterans to continue.
“Most of the younger veterans are working and working longer,” Schmidt said. “I’m grateful for the older vets being out there, respecting what America is all about.”
The Honor Guard will be recognized during an awards program in early 2017.