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2016 Person of the Year: Honor Guard

Photos by Tom Rivers: Veterans, including Fred Heschke (center), stand during Memorial Day service on May 30 at State Street Park in Medina. The Honor Guard attends numerous community events each year.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 January 2017 at 12:36 pm
The Honor Guard from Albion-Holley and Medina attend about 100 military funerals each year.

The Honor Guard from Albion-Holley and Medina attend about 100 military funerals each year.

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.

World War II veteran Michael Paduchak, right, and George Blakeman, a member of the Marine Corps League in Albion, salute during the flag-raising ceremony in July 2013 to kick off the Orleans County 4-H Fair.

World War II veteran Michael Paduchak, right, and George Bakeman, a member of the Marine Corps League in Albion, salute during the flag-raising ceremony in July 2013 to kick off the Orleans County 4-H Fair.

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.”

The Honor Guard concluded a program on May 26 at Mount Albion Cemetery when a new plaque was dedicated for Civil War veterans.

The Honor Guard concluded a program on May 26 at Mount Albion Cemetery when a new plaque was dedicated for Civil War veterans.

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.

The Honor Guard provides a presence at the funeral for Frank Sidari on April 25, 2015. Sidari, 90, served in World War II.

The Honor Guard provides a presence at the funeral for Frank Sidari on April 25, 2015. Sidari, 90, served in World War II.

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.

The Honor Guard, including Adam Johnson at right, marches in the Memorial Day Parade in Medina on May 30.

The Honor Guard, including Adam Johnson at right, marches in the Memorial Day Parade in Medina on May 30.

Markeya Lucas-Drisdom of Albion, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, served in the Honor Guard during a Veterans' Day observance on Nov. 11, 2015 in Albion.

Markeya Lucas-Drisdom of Albion, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, served in the Honor Guard during a Veterans’ Day observance on Nov. 11, 2015 in Albion.

The Honor Guard marches along Main Street in Albion on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. The Honor Guard often get the loudest applause in parades with many also saluting the veterans.

The Honor Guard marches along Main Street in Albion on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. The Honor Guard often receives the loudest applause in parades with many also saluting the veterans.

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