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VFW group recognized for funeral services for veteransOriginally Published August 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 28, 2013 at 2:57 p.m.
Since January 2005, members of the Jesse W. Grisham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2259 Honor Guard have traveled 71,540 miles to honor the lives of deceased veterans.
They have gone down rough, dusty roads, stood in ankle-deep water and atop small knolls in countless cemeteries across Arkansas to provide a final tribute to those who served their country. The honor guard’s motto is “In service to those who served.”
The Conway VFW Honor Guard recently received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition “for countless hours of dedicated volunteer service you provide our veterans and their families in time of need.” The certificate is signed by U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and was presented to the honor guard during the state VFW convention held in June in Little Rock. The certificate is now on display at the post home, 1855 Old Morrilton Highway (U.S. 64) in Conway.
The honor guard originally had 18 to 20 members but now has only 12 or 13.
“We have buried seven of our own members,” said Charles “Charlie” Hooten, captain of the honor guard.
Jim Brewer and Rita Toal serve as lieutenants of the honor guard. Other members of the unit include John Beltowski, Arthur Bishop, Herman Dowell, Robert Finch, Tracy Callahan, Harold Belote, Darrell Hall, Chris Ray, Jim Rose and Gail Truhe.
Hooten said that upon request from a family, the VFW honor guard provides a military funeral for anyone who has served in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The local unit is also available to assist in funerals conducted by the military.
To conduct such a service, Hooten said, the honor guard provides at least three riflemen, a bugler and a commander. There may not be more than seven riflemen. The riflemen fire a three-volley salute, the bugler plays taps, and the commander leads the team in folding an American flag and presenting it to a family member. The family also receives a small packet containing three cartridge casings from volleys that were fired “in salute to one’s service” and a red poppy, along with a certificate from the honor guard with signatures of each member who participated in the funeral service.
“This is not something that we really like to do, but we do it to be able to give a veteran this service,” said Hooten, who served two years with the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam, earning two Purple Hearts, a Combat Infantry Badge and an Army Commendation.
“The deceased does not have to be a veteran of a foreign war,” he said, “and there is no charge for this service. All the family has to do is tell the funeral home, and someone from there will contact us.”
“When we first started out, we used our own vehicles to get to the site of the service,” said Brewer, who served with the Army for three years in Korea.
“We didn’t have much money then,” Hooten said, “but the post helped us out, and we now have a 15-passenger van that we use. The post also pays the insurance on the van.”
“The post really has helped us,” Brewer added. “We couldn’t have better backing.
“We’ve been all the way to the Louisiana border. We even performed a service on the
Razorback submarine in North Little Rock with a burial at sea” (committal of the remains to the deep).
Toal said the honor guard gets calls from the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps to assist in military funerals.
She said that in the past, the honor guard held fundraisers to help cover the expenses of the services.
“But now we have a weekly bingo from 1-4 on Sunday afternoons, and part of the proceeds is given to the honor guard,” said Toal, who retired from the Navy after 23 years of duty in locations such as Korea, the Philippines and Hawaii. “The public is welcome at our bingos.”
In addition to providing military funerals, the Conway VFW Honor Guard also goes into schools and other organizations to provide educational programs on the American flag, including the proper way to fold and retire the flag. The honor guard is also available to serve as a color guard for local functions. The group has served as the state VFW color guard for four years.
For more information on the VFW Honor Guard, call the post at (501) 329-1230.