Veteran volunteers needed for funerals (video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
May 27, 2012 at 12:27 a.m.
Updated May 28, 2012 at 12:28 a.m.
Standing beneath the shade of an oak tree at Memory Gardens Cemetery, seven aged military veterans fire three rounds in the air.
Following the boom of three volleys, a second group of veterans perform a presentation of colors while taps echoes across the lawn.
The Civil War tune silences the family and friends of World War II Army soldier, Joseph Fuchs.
They lower their heads in mourning, as two volunteer veterans stand behind Fuchs' casket and fold an American flag in a triangle.
Fuchs, 90, died two Saturdays ago. He was laid to rest Wednesday at Memory Gardens in Victoria.
"These men fought for our country, some paying the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. They deserve to be honored in their death," said Victoria Veterans Council Secretary Marvin Lockhart, who participated in Fuchs' three-volley salute.
Lockhart, an Air Force serviceman and Vietnam veteran, said he's a regular volunteer at military funerals.
He attends about 150 funerals each year, aiding his fellow veterans as they honor fallen soldiers.
"I've seen soldiers die, and I know that some gave all. They gave their lives for our freedom," he said. "I feel honor when I volunteer at these funerals. It's a way for me to give back to my country."
Lockhart said he's proud of the group of about 25 volunteers who regularly participate in military funerals. But not all of the men are available for each service, and many are getting too old to participate.
"Ten years ago, we had plenty of men holding flags and firing guns, and a few men would be hanging around in the background not doing anything. Now, we're lucky if we get 10 people," Lockhart said. "For it to look nice, we need about 25 people at each funeral."
Lockhart said men who regularly participate in the funerals range in age from 50 to 90 years old.
"I understand the younger men have families and jobs ... but we need them. We could do a much better job if we had a full staff," he said.
Army and Air Force serviceman and Vietnam veteran Alberto Garcia - who currently serves as Victoria County Veterans Council chairman - said because there's a shortage of volunteers, the same men are repeatedly asked to give up their free time for funeral services and other needs.
"There are seven cemeteries around Victoria that we keep up year-round," Garcia said. "Some aren't maintained as well as others, so we'll spend a half day out there mowing grass and clearing brush. We try to take care of where we see a veteran's grave."
Garcia and Lockhart said the shortage of volunteers isn't for a lack of enrollees in area veterans organizations. The American League, for example, has more than 300 members, yet only about 10 are active. The Veterans of Foreign Wars has more than 300 members, but Lockhart said about six will volunteer when needed.
"Traditionally, you could say that about 10 percent would be active from each of 10 organizations. We're lucky to get 5 percent these days," he said.
Both men said they're concerned for the future, as regular volunteers continue to age, and newer generations appear disinterested in volunteering.
"There's plenty of soldiers around here, but I don't think they're aware of our need," Lockhart said. "We never know when there's going to be a funeral."
Lockhart hopes area veterans and reservists will be motivated to join them. Not only because they're experiencing a shortage, but because it's their patriotic responsibility.
"When we give those flags to the families, one of the things we say is, 'We give this to you on behalf of a grateful nation,'" Lockhart said. "The people who have served our nation deserve our appreciation. They deserve a nice funeral."