It’s a job done with heart. East Tennessee veterans offer a final goodbye to fellow soldiers by giving a military funeral with honors.
WATE 6 On Your Side has been sharing the stories and mission behind Honor Guard organizations in our community. We partnered this fall with Rose Mortuary for Operation Honor Guard’s 2nd Day of Giving.
With your help and generous donations from local businesses, we raised more than $44,000 for five local Honor Guard units. Those gifts are now being put to good use.
The first stop Tuesday was at Knoxville’s armory where members of East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard picked up their van.
“It is really a blessing for us. The other one was getting to be on its last legs,” said Reid Gerhardt, president of East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard.
These veterans were on their way to a funeral. They average six to eight services a week.
“It’s just something to give back to veterans that served before us,” said Stuart Hall, an Air Force veteran and volunteer for East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard.
Because of generous gifts given from the community this fall, this Honor Guard unit was able to purchase a new van that they then put into service.
“The old one broke down on the road a few times on the way to funerals. Thank goodness for cell phones. We’ve called our guys up, they’ve met us on the side of the road and we throw the rifles, the bugles and everything else we need in the backs of people’s cars and we go,” said Gerhardt.
East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard members go wherever they’re needed, sometimes to funerals in Knox County, Blount County, Anderson County and even Union County.
Gerhardt says this van is more than just a set of wheels.
“This is our headquarters. This is our armory. We keep the rifles here, we keep the flags here, the bugle here and this has to be where we go for the funerals because we have everything in one place. We drive to the funerals and we’re ready to go.”
The van this one replaced was 22 years old and repairs were getting costly.
“This one here will last us a long time too,” said Hall.
Months later, members are still thankful and overwhelmed by how the community helped.
“Sometimes we’ll have people blow at us and then they’ll give you a thumbs up. We have had several occasions where our police officers have gone by and given us a salute. We’re representing not just us, but every veteran that’s out there,” said Hall.
“It’s something we can be proud of. Drive down the road and it looks good,” added Gerhardt.
East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard says they performed more than 300 funerals last year with thousands of volunteer hours included in that.
Graveside services are done at no cost to the families. Honor Guard members say it costs about $125 to carry out just one funeral.