By LENA MITCHELL / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
CORINTH – Family members and friends kept silent at a recent Corinth National Cemetery memorial service for a deceased U.S. Army veteran while Military Funeral Honors were under way.
Army Maj. Tommy Counce of Booneville and Marine Corps Sgt. 1st Class Scott Richardson of Iuka unfolded the U.S. flag that would be presented to the family.
They carried out the solemn ceremony before a table that held a picture of the deceased veteran, an urn with his cremains and other memorabilia.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Edge of Booneville fired three rifle volleys into the air and sounded taps on a bugle before Counce and Richardson, aided by Sgt. 1st Class Bobby McDaniel of Corinth, refolded the flag.
As protocol requires, the flag was presented to the family by Lt. Col. Ted Hill of Wheeler, an Army veteran and member of the same branch of service as the deceased.
The five veterans, all retired from the military, are part of a group of volunteers who feel service is a duty and a calling. They demonstrate that commitment by conducting the Military Funeral Honors for families of deceased veterans.
“This group was founded because veterans were not being honored,” said Hill, the group’s team leader.
He assumed the leadership role with the U.S. Veteran & Volunteer Reserve Funeral Honor Guard after the founder, retired Army Gen. Bill Huff of Corinth, retired from this extension of his service.
“Back about 1993 I had retired from the Army National Guard, and we used to do military funerals for veterans in our area,” Huff said. “Also around that time the government cut out funds to have active duty servicemen or National Guardsmen, who had to be paid, perform the duty. I didn’t think that was right, and I pledged that in Alcorn County they would have at least one person there to present a flag.”
Huff went solo for a couple of years presenting flags to families before he was joined by Ravin Smith, who fired the weapon, and James Embrey, who sounded taps.
Another volunteer – Hill – soon joined the group.
“Over a period of years we collected guys from each branch of service, all volunteers, who love what they’re doing and feel like it’s a calling more than anything, because there’s no pay,” Huff said.
Military Funeral Honors have been provided to honorably discharged service members since the Civil War, said Jay Jones, funeral director with Memorial Funeral Home in Corinth. Now the law requires that the ceremony be provided if the family of an eligible veteran requests it.
Families that wish to have Military Funeral Honors during a service may make the request through their funeral director or the cemetery director for the national cemetery.
“Now the generation of World War II veterans are slowly dying off,” Jones said. “The honor they do is very emotional for families involved in it. Most people know they’re entitled to something but don’t know what they’re entitled to.”
The honor guard detail for a funeral must consist of at least two members of the Armed Forces, and the ceremony must include folding and presenting the flag and the playing of taps, whether by a bugler or by electronic recording.
The group was founded to fill a void, but Hill stresses that there is no competition with active duty National Guard or other military performing Funeral Honor Guard duty. New volunteers are always welcome.
“All of our new candidates will go through extensive Military Funeral Honors training prior to participating in an Honors Funeral,” Hill said. “We also serve as color guards for several civic and patriotic events when asked, and have also done mock funerals for elementary schools in the local area.”
Hill’s team members come from a wide geographic area in Northeast Mississippi, but the group is based in Corinth and serves often at the Corinth National Cemetery.
“This group has been very active in this national cemetery,” said Deborah Kendrick, cemetery director for Corinth National Cemetery, which is part of the Memphis National Cemetery. “I’ve worked with them since coming here two years ago, and I know they were active for a number of years before that.amp”
Kendrick said her office receives requests for Military Funeral Honors from both funeral homes and family members, but also makes arrangements and provides the service when there is no family.
“Right now we have a dozen men who respond on a moment’s call to all funeral requests, both combat and peacetime veterans,” Hill said, and they’re responding at a rate of about 20 funerals per month. “Words can’t say what I’d like to about the willingness and dedication of these men.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.