All give some and some give all. Regardless, the Acadiana Honor Guard’s mission is to make sure local veterans receive the final measure of their nation’s gratitude.
Commander and former Marine Staff Sgt. Tom Green initiated the concept. Nearly four decades after his retirement from active duty, he is still military-precise.
“My name is on all the documents,” he said. “I will speak and do whatever’s necessary.”
Green served in the Marines from 1970-1976, where he evacuated refugees from Vietnam and his assignment involved nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological capability. He later supervised hazardous material control for 37 years as a civilian with UPS. Retired since 2011, he immediately became involved with the Marine Corps League, whose mission has remained the same since its inception: to preserve the traditions and promote the interests of the United States Marine Corps while voluntarily aiding and rendering assistance to all Marines.
“The Honor Guard’s primary mission is to provide the last measure of dignity and respect that every veteran has earned,” he said. “Not every act is a Purple Heart, but is deserving of the same respect.”
In existence for only one year, the Acadiana Honor Guard seeks veterans from every branch of service and performs the requisite military rituals deemed necessary to lay them to rest. The government has the legal responsibility to provide active duty personnel to families for the proceedings, but due to military cutbacks has been forced to omit or reduce services to a minimum. Often when provided, such active duty personnel are untrained in honor guard duties. “We also augment that,” said Green, who has two buglers.
The unit attends both memorials and funerals, and the rituals they perform include folding and presentation of the flag (both individual service flag and the U.S. flag) call up of the guard, salute, file out, moving the casket to the hearse and finally to the proper setting with dignity.
“We stay at attention until the family is gone,” said Green.
The unit will also do casket watch, a somber ritual where men stand guard two at a time.
There are certain specific words to each branch of service that should always be said, according to Green, who also interviews family members before speaking at funerals such as the recent one for a World War II veteran.
“It’s a dignity and respect that every veteran deserves. It’s the price of war,” Green said. “They need to be acknowledged, whether you wear one ribbon or a chestful.”
In 2014, Green noticed a trend where requests for military honors went unfilled, partly due to shortages and what Green calls a lack of communication and red tape. Families were being asked to produce a record of discharge before an active duty honor guard would be assigned and were frequently unable to do so before scheduled funeral services.
“The departments don’t talk to each other,” said Green. “There’s no shared database. Unbelievably, that’s what’s gone on. It’s very archaic. That’s why we’re needed.”
According to Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, more than 1,500 veterans per day across the U.S. qualify for military honors out of 22.8 million veterans in the U.S., with WWII and Korean War veterans being lost at a higher rate than ever before. “And they’re not being effectively respected,” said Green.
The Acadiana Honor Guard provides capability on an immediate basis.
“Out of a list of approximately 30 members, when I make the call, eight to 10 will gather,” said Green, who hopes to also include weapons display in the Honor Guard’s future. “We continue to strive.”
The Acadiana Honor Guard subsists on individual donations as a 501C19 veteran’s association non-profit organization. They are without sponsorship.
In 2014, the Honor Guard assisted at approximately 30-35 services and expects to attend 100 or more in 2015 due to military cutbacks and downsizing.
“When the active duty personnel can’t do their job, we don’t hesitate,” said Green. “We persevere.”