KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Their service didn’t end when their time in the military was over. East Tennessee veterans are still serving today and as much as it is an honor to put back on their uniforms, it’s not about themselves. They’re doing it for their fellow veterans to carry on their sacrifice and dedication even after their last breath.
As family mourns the loss of their loved one, a group of fellow veterans stand tall in salute.
“We are all very proud of what we do,” said Capt. Reid Gerhardt, president of East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard.
Almost every day of the year, you’ll find a group of these volunteer veterans standing guard, performing a military service at a veteran’s funeral in East Tennessee. Retired SSgt. Stuart Hall decided to join the Honor Guard after attending a funeral for a homeless veteran.
“There was no one there to really represent the family. They gave them the honor as if it would have been the biggest funeral in the day,” said Hall.
The pride and emotion of watching the Honor Guard perform that service led him to join.
“It’s been a journey. It’s been unreal. It’s something I’d missed a hole in my heart for 40 some years, it just means a lot,” said Hall.
It’s something they do for free on their own time. They’re not paid, just volunteers wanting to provide a dignified service for all men and women of service. It can get expensive to do what they do. There’s the cost of uniforms, flags, transportation, guns and ammunition, paid for either by donations or out of their own pockets. The cost can add up, but these veterans say it’s priceless.
“It takes a lot of time. We aren’t compensated. We don’t want to be. We are compensated in the feedback we get, but also compensated by the sense of duty and accomplishment for honor those veterans in front of their families,” said Gerhardt.
“We need support, that we will be… that we can give honor and respect to that fallen soldier man or woman,” Hall said as he fought back tears.
Leaders say oftentimes the money to support this volunteer effort comes from the American Legion Posts or other veterans. Sometimes even family members of the men and women who have died who graciously give so this tradition can continue for other families.
Operation Honor Guard is a national organization that helps the American Legion support honor guards just like this one. It can cost more than $800 to outfit each honor guard member.
WATE 6 On Your Side’s Operation Honor Guard Day of Giving is October 11. WATE will be partnering with local businesses and the community to raise donations.More online:Learn more about Operation Honor Guard and the Day of Giving