How do dwindling honor guards meet demand?

Posted at 8:00 AM, May 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-30 08:00:31-04

CINCINNATI — Men and women in sharp uniforms stand at attention. A flag is folded and handed to the next of kin. Taps plays. The guns fire in salute.

Those who perform those duties at the funeral of military veteran are called an honor guard. It is a noble calling, and one that is in high demand these days. As funerals for veterans increase, the number of veterans to perform honor guard duties decreases.

“It is harder than it used to be,” said Wayne “Hutch” Hutchison, the Ohio chief of staff for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Hutch served in the Navy in the first Persian Gulf War. “Specifically, a lot of us combine honor guards to make sure our veteran heroes are given a proper burial.”

RELATED: Find all of our VA coverage here.

Hutch said in Butler County, the AmVets, the American Legion and the VFW posts combine to provide enough members to have an honor guard. 

In Northern Kentucky, it is the same. 

“We don’t have an honor guard, it went away some time ago,” said Bill Strickley, the service officer at the John R. Little VFW Post No. 3186 in Southgate. He said the Ninth District, composed of Campbell, Boone, Kenton and Pendleton counties, has a combined honor guard. 

“There’s no fee, as long as the veteran has a DD-214 form,” he said. The form, or discharge papers, can be obtained here.

“Any vet from any post in the Northern Kentucky area can join and serve. They do a fantastic job,” Strickley said. 

The Little post, despite being one of the larger posts in Northern Kentucky with around 120 members, does not have anyone serving on the honor guard. Strickley said it is the most active post in Campbell County. 

“At one point in time, every post had their own,” Strickley said. “But the World War II veterans are dying off and other people are not stepping up. Getting younger guys to join to be active is tough.”

Hutch said the demand is ever-increasing, as we lose 900 Vietnam War vets a day nationwide. 

“It’s great that we have so many veterans here in Ohio,” he said. The difficulty is in getting younger vets to join posts. 

“The average age is about 67 at our posts,” he said. “They don’t want to give it up (honor guards), but it’s tough to get younger members.”

The demands of an honor guard can be grueling, too. 

“It’s tough on the older vets,” Hutch said. “It gets to you. You might play taps four or five times a day, sometimes five, six or seven days a week. These funerals happen in every kind of weather, too. Standing at attention for 20, 30 or 40 minutes at a time can be tough for an older gentleman.

“Still, those guys are awesome. They’re very dedicated, and they never ask for anything. These guys have a passion that’s rarely seen.”

He also said he understands the difficulty with getting younger vets involved, especially in the honor guard. 

“Most funerals occur during the work day,” he said. “That makes it harder on our younger vets who haven’t retired yet.”

“I think a lot of younger vets see the VFW as for the older generation,” said William Clabaugh, of Sharonville, who served in the Army during the ongoing war on terror. He spent two tours of duty overseas, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Newer vets don't feel like they have the time for meetings, obligations, and the like, due to families and jobs.”

Still, Hutch wants to assure veterans and their families that no matter what, honor guards aren’t going away.

“We always say, we make sure we’ll see our comrade again,” he said. “We’ll get there. We won’t let a veteran not get a proper burial.”

For more information on full military honors for funerals contact: 


Army 502-624-6051 
Marine Corps 866-826-3628 
Navy 866-203-7791 
Air Force 937-257-8964 
Coast Guard 314-606-6792


Army 502-624-6051 
Marine Corps 866-826-3628 
Navy 866-203-7791 
Air Force 937-257-8964 
Coast Guard 314-606-6792