The organization that provides military funerals in Colorado is sounding an alarm. The All Veterans Honor Guard says unless it can attract more volunteers, it will dissolve and thousands of veterans may go without military honors.
“I’ve been out here when we’ve done 13 (funerals) in one day,” says Colonel Les Kennedy. “I’m going to tell you,13 is a tough day.”
He’s among some 80 veterans who conduct more than 1,500 military funerals a year in Colorado.
“If you look,” Kennedy observed, “we’re all gray-haired. We’re taking the place of the military. This is what happens. This is a military function by statute, by law.”
But the military can’t keep up, so volunteers like Kennedy and Alan Jaffe have stepped in.
“We’re here for a purpose and it’s not for ourselves,” says Jaffe.
As team commander, he leads the services. All he knows of those who died is that they were willing to die for the U.S. “Each one is treated with the same respect and dignity that they deserve,” Jaffe says.
The ceremony includes the playing of “Taps,” the presentation of the American flag and a three-volley salute.
Jaffe called it “a sad duty of respect.”
It is a duty they carry out with no pay.
“It’s our honor to do this,” says Kennedy.
But their ranks are thinning.
The timing of the funerals is difficult for young veterans with jobs, and the rifle fire is difficult for those with combat-related PTSD.
Kennedy wonders who will be there when they no longer can be. “I guess one day it will just die. If we don’t get people coming out to join us, it’ll just end,” he lalments.
The All Veterans Honor Guard has conducted more than 23,000 military funerals in Colorado over the last 30 years. Right now, only veterans can join.
Some Honor Guard members say that may need to change if the organization is to survive, which would mean changing federal law.
For now, the group is asking any veteran willing to commit to even a few days a month to consider joining them.