- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Culpeper, Va., veterans are assisting with funerals for area World War II veterans as more than 1,000 die daily in the United States and the federal government does its best to provide proper services.

Since 1996, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2524 and American Legion Post 330 have joined to form the Culpeper Honor Guard, taking part in about 100 funerals a year.

While VFW and Legion posts typically provide these duties for their own members, it’s unusual for them to work together, said Morris Foster, a retired Marine who leads the guard.

In blazing heat and freezing cold, volunteers stand at attention as the hearse pulls up to Culpeper National Cemetery.

At graveside, they ceremoniously fold the flag and present it to the family. They also give the traditional 21-gun salute before a bugler plays taps.

They fought in the same trenches in Europe and the Pacific and shivered in the same mountains of Korea as those they mourn.

Sometimes, Mr. Foster’s voice cracks slightly when he looks into the eyes of the bereaved and thanks them “on behalf of a grateful nation.”

But Mr. Foster, who commanded others on the drill field and served two tours in Vietnam, isn’t about to relinquish his post.

“Somebody has to be there to do it,” said Mr. Foster, one of the youngest members at 73. “I’d feel bad sitting here [at home] knowing some family needs help, and I didn’t do anything to help them.”

Roger Harding, 81, a World War II vet, said he considers the duty an honor that gives families “some closure and satisfaction.”

Still, it is tough for the aging warriors.

For men with arthritic knees or bad backs, standing at attention on concrete while two or three ministers take turns speaking takes its toll. Multiply that by 1,110 funerals.

Still, most members don’t miss a service unless they are on vacation or have a doctor’s appointment.

On a recent Friday, Robert Earhart Jr. of Tampa, Fla., thanked the volunteers on behalf of his late father, Robert.

“It’s a recognition of the service he put in,” Mr. Earhart said.

The Earhart funeral was one of two the honor guard took part in that day and the fourth of five that week.

As retired Marine Capt. Perry Smiley left the Earhart services, he told the others he would see them soon.

“See you, Perry,” another veteran called back as Capt. Smiley packed up gear. “Stay by your phone.”

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