Honor Guard gives veterans a fitting send off
Dedicated group committed to Orleans vets
ALBION – A line of 14 veterans from Albion and Holley, including Al Pulcino of Holley at right with beard, stand at attention in the Honor Guard on Friday at a graveside service for Frank Sidari of Albion. Sidari, 90, served in World War II.
Many of the veterans in the Honor Guard knew Sidari and wanted to honor him on Friday during the service at St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
The Honor Guard from Albion and Holley goes to about 50 funerals a year for veterans. They 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 chaplain Ron Ayrault may be asked to pray.
Ayrault, 83, averages about a funeral a week with the Honor Guard. Sometimes he goes to two in one day, and occasionally the services may be two or three weeks apart.
He is glad to go, even in the cold weather.
“This is for a fellow veteran,” Ayrault said. “He served his time.”
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.
Many communities do not have enough veterans willing to volunteer for the Honor Guard, said Paul Fulcomer, director of the Veterans Service Agency and also the county’s burial officer. Veterans may need to be brought in from outside the community to perform the duties in other counties.
“Fortunately in our county we have enough guys to do it,” Fulcomer said.
Holley and Albion used to have enough veterans for their own Honor Guards. But about 20 years ago, Holley and Albion joined to form an Honor Guard unit.
Some of the members in the Honor Guard are World War II veterans in their 90s.
George Bakeman, 61, is one of the younger members. He has been active in the Honor Guard the past five years.
“Someone needs to do it and it’s the least we can do,” Bakeman said.
Sometimes the Honor Guard may be short some members, with people sick or out of town. Veterans from Medina may be called to help provide a presence at the funeral. The Albion and Holley members also will often help Medina at a service.
Fulcomer said Medina and Lyndonville currently have their own Honor Guards and those two communities will often work together.
He likes to see several veterans in the Honor Guard, more than the minimum of two.
“It adds a lot to the service to have the Honor Guard lined up with the flag,” he said.
The Honor Guard welcomes more members, especially a new generation of younger veterans.
“Five to 10 years from now, I don’t know what we’ll have here,” Ayrault said about the Honor Guard. “The ranks are getting thin.”
Fulcomer said many of the funerals are during the workday when younger veterans are at their jobs.
As veterans retire and have more availability, Fulcomer said he hopes they will consider serving in the Honor Guard.
Andy Eibl is 73. He would like to see more volunteers be part of the Honor Guard.
“It’s getting worrisome because we have a lot of guys who are getting into their 80s and 90s,” he said.
Ayrault has volunteered in the Honor Guard the past 23 years. He estimates he has been to 1,000 funerals for local veterans.
“It’s an honor to do it for these veterans,” he said. “A lot of these guys were my friends. I feel good afterwards and people say they appreciate it.”
Ayrault and Chuck Pulaski of Holley work together folding the flag. Ayrault will usually address the family, thanking the veteran for his service to the country.
Some of the Honor Guard members said they get nervous if they have to fold the flag. Some would prefer not to speak at the services.
Pulaski, 66, said he can be moved to tears at the funerals, especially if they are for his friends or if he hands the flag to a young child of a veteran.
Ayrault admits he, too, can sometimes struggle to get the words out.
“If it’s for a friend you get choked up,” he said.
Pulaski and the Honor Guard about five years ago added a new element to the local services for veterans. He had heard about an Honor Guard that included three empty shell casings and placed them inside the flag. Those shells represent the veteran’s commitment to honor, duty and service to country.
Pulaski shared that message on Friday in discussing Sidari’s life of service.
(Sidari’s family would share those shells with his grandchildren.)
“People have commented that they think it is a nice gesture,” Pulaski said about the three shells.
Sidari’s family said they appreciated the Honor Guard’s efforts at the service.
“It’s great thing that they do, that’s for sure,” Sidari’s son Frank said.
Ayrault said the group is committed “to trying to give them a good sendoff.”
Pulaski was at a relative’s burial recently in Cheektowaga and only three people were in that Honor Guard.
He is proud of the local veterans for their dedication to the Honor Guard in Orleans County.
“We still want to bring a certain honor and dignity,” Pulaski said.