A group of Florissant veterans will honor the service of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces on Veterans Day.
Ten members from the American Legion Florissant Valley Memorial Post 444 will perform military honors at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The tight-knit group is known as the honor guard.
Since 1992, the Florissant-based group has performed roughly 6,000 services at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
James Hunt is the judge advocate at Florissant Valley Memorial Post 444. The 75-year-old Vietnam-era veteran said even though the job can take a toll, it’s worth it in the end.
“We consider it a great honor to be able to do this,” Hunt said. “Because we know what it means to them. And when you’re standing there and the service is over and a family member walks up with tears in their eyes and shakes your hand and says thank you, it makes it all worthwhile. It makes it all worthwhile.”
The honor guard was established by the state of Missouri and is administered by the National Guard. The honor guard performs services at Jefferson Barracks every week of the year, no matter the weather.
During the service, the group fires off nine rounds from World War I-, II- and Korean War-era rifles. An electronic bugle is played. The family of the service member receives a folded flag, a military funeral honors coin and a card.
Hunt said even though the services can be emotionally taxing, it’s important to recognize the veterans' contributions.
“We feel each service, and we realize the solemn moment that it is, but the person who provided the service to the nation deserves this,” Hunt said. “[They] deserve every bit of it.”
The honor guard’s membership has dwindled in size throughout the years. Hunt said when he started a little more than a decade ago, the group had 25 members and did, at most, 16 services a day. That’s not the case these days. Most of the members in the honor guard are in their 70s and 80s, and the role does have its physical, mental and emotional demands. The Air Force veteran said as members age, they’re uncertain who will carry on the duty.
“We have made a lot of effort to try to get people just to join the post and also to participate in the honor guard,” Hunt said. “But the mentality of the current veterans coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan and other places like that, they’re not really orientated towards (veterans' service organizations) at this time. VSOs really exploded after World War II. And now most of your World War II and Korean veterans are dying off. So it’s a generational thing.”
Hunt hopes younger veterans will be encouraged to participate in the honor guard in the coming years.