SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Sevier County has two honor guard units. The one in Sevierville at the American Legion Post has been around for years, while the Pigeon Forge Veterans Military Honor Guard is fairly new. Both volunteer units serve as many families of veterans as possible, using their own dime.
“It’s just an honor to serve here. To provide this to the veterans,” said Tom Baxter, American Legion Post 104.
The veterans in each group are dedicated to their individual Honor Guard units. Navy veteran Baxter is the former commander of American Legion Post 104 in Sevierville, and Retired Air Force Colonel Steve Holbert leads the Veterans Military Honor Guard of Pigeon Forge. Holbert’s small unit honors about 60 veterans with full military services a year.
“Our group cares. The pay scale is really bad,” said Holbert. “But we get heart food. And heart food is more valuable than money.”
That “heart food” is interacting with the family, showing that veterans care for fallen veterans, especially those who loved them. American Legion Post 104 in Sevierville salutes about 100 veterans a year.
“We take it very seriously. It is our primary obligation. We drop other events if necessary to make sure that we provide an honor guard for a funeral service,” said Baxter.
At their services, Baxter presents the American flag to the family. It’s an emotional moment that he personally experienced recently.
“Well, I just recently learned it from the other end, because my twin brother just passed away. It was a moving experience for me. I didn’t necessarily understand how much it meant to the family until I received the flag instead of giving the flag away,” said Baxter.
For the Pigeon Forge unit, transportation to services is provided by Holbert who uses his personal vehicle. The money raised by Operation Honor Guard will go a long way to helping them get a new mode of transportation.
“We are trying to accumulate money to acquire a van. We don’t have that yet. So what we are doing is reimbursing some of the expenses that our members have associated with participating in the Honor Guard,” said Holbert.
Like many of its aging veterans, Post 104 is also putting money away for a new van.
“It is starting to get old and tired. We are looking forward to getting a new van at some point. We save a little bit of money every year until we can get a new one,” said Baxter.
Honor Guard units provide a vital service: closure.
“It’s just a special moment to finish the veteran’s service,” said Baxter.