PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — Honoring those who committed to serving their country. This is what honor guards around East Tennessee have been doing for years. For some members of the Pigeon Forge Honor Guard, the military funerals are beginning to hit closer to home.
“When I started this 10 years ago, we were doing World War II veterans. Then we went through the Korean War and now we are in Vietnam Veterans,” says Pigeon Forge Honor Guard Commander Herb Kraehmer. Two-thirds of the veterans that served in Vietnam are no longer with us. We’re talking about my age. When I think about two-thirds of my brothers, it’s a number that really hits you. It really strikes you.”
As emotional as it is, Kraehmer, now 73, tells WATE 6 News he has no plans of slowing down when it comes to honoring those who served.
“It gets in your blood. It’s what you do, honor your brothers and your sisters.”
Unfortunately, thanks to the Pandemic, for about three months this year cemeteries were silent as the burials continued but the honor guards were forced to stand down. However, eight months later the call is going out for the Honor Guards to return.
Whether it be attending military funerals, holiday celebrations or educating area students about the flag, members of various honor guards are mobilizing once again.
“You can’t go into schools right now but the schools can come out to you. So, they can have an event out in the parking lot which is what a lot of them are doing,” says Kraehmer.
But more calls means more costs.
“Uniforms can very from a couple hundred dollars for a navy uniform to almost a thousand dollars for an Army uniform,” adds Kraehmer. “Fifty percent of the members don’t put in for gas mileage. Those that do can get five, six to 10 dollars a trip depending on the honor guard. Of course that mounts up when you have 13 to 15 people there for each funeral.”
A coast that adds up, but one that doesn’t deter many of these men and women despite many living on a fixed income.
“We all serve together.We all work to honor the veteran. That’s our primary mission. To do military honors.”