Earlier this month, the VFW honor guard patiently waited at Woodlawn Cemetery in Claremore to perform their next selfless act.
Seven veterans, in uniform, stood quietly in the back facing the open plot where Irene Ward, 99, would be laid to rest next to her husband and former Rogers County Sheriff, Amos.
While standing at attention, the hearse slowly rolled up and came to a stop in front of the headstone that said WARD. Irene’s family gathered and the ceremony began with everyone's attention focused on the pastor.
“We commend to God almighty our sister Irene and we commit her body to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said.
The veterans who served in different wars belong to different VFW posts and different backgrounds. They broke their silence with the 21 gun salute. Each one firing off a gun from the back, each one proud to volunteer with the honor guard for the memorial rights ceremony.
The thunderous sounds of the guns going off suddenly ended with the playing of Taps on the trumpet. Irene’s loved ones wiped away tears as the notes were played. Next is the folding of the American flag that once draped Mrs. Ward’s casket.
Two men, one on each end slowly fold the flag in small triangles. Once folded, the flag was given to Irene’s daughter, Dana Shouse.
“Every person that they handed that flag to at a funeral it meant so much to them,” Shouse said, as she remembered her mom and dad taking part in the same ceremony at other veterans funerals. “It symbolized their freedom. It symbolized a big thing like freedom but it also symbolized their particular family members part in that and the sacrifices they made.”
Larry Hill is the commander of the VFW Honor Guard and is responsible for organizing his team. He tells us they’re on call six days a week and have performed the memorial rights for veteran’s funerals in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas. There have been times they drove 200 to 300 miles.
“Every veteran deserves it. Somewhere along the line that veteran signed a piece of paper that pledged this life if necessary to defend this country and they deserve the honors we can give them” Hill said.
As a volunteer, Hill says it’s an honor and a deeply personal and emotional experience.
“Once you kneel down and look at that person you’re giving that flag to and see the gratitude on their face it just does something to you- that’s the way all these guys feel,” he said.
The VFW Honor Guard runs off of 100% donations. Hill says if there aren’t enough donations they need to dip into their own pockets to pay for gas and insurance on their vans. For information on how to donate click here
There’s also a desperate need for volunteers. Hill says they even struggle to find folks willing to help at VFW posts around Green Country. To find out more information on VA burial benefits and memorial information click here