Veterans Honor Guards Face Challenges

Minnesotans thanked veterans Friday, but one of their most desired honors needs an act of the Legislature and younger blood.

Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito said that many ex-military personnel have two major requests: a bronze marker at their grave denoting their veteran status and an American flag on their casket.

Honor guards, which handle flag duties, were endangered when state officials forgot to include continued funding in their budget requests, so Gov. Mark Dayton and Shellito found the needed funds on a temporary basis. Now, they pledge to ask the Legislature to appropriate honor guard funding so it is more stable.

Honor guards from veterans’ organizations, such as the American Legion, only receive $50 per burial, but Shellito said it still is important. The money, for instance, helps buy ammunition used in rifle salutes.

With 10,000 Minnesota veterans dying annually, finding an honor guard sometimes is tough, in a large part because those active in military organizations are aging and find it harder to be part of the honor guard. Many honor guard members are at least 80 years old.

Some have not been trained in the details of working in an honor guard, and it can show at the graveside. But the commissioner said that is changing, with National Guard members providing training.

Also, Shellito said, more Guard members are becoming involved in honor guards themselves, offering hope that the activity will continue with a younger generation. “They are stepping forward.”

While traditionally honor guards include a bugler who plays taps for the fallen soldier, instrumentalists are hard to come by these days and for the past few years bugle-looking electronic devices often are used.

Shellito said taps recordings have not been embraced because the music sounds so perfect. But, now, recordings have changed enough that it appears to be better accepted.