American Legion Post 202 is looking for Honor Guard volunteers
One of the most somber traditions in the U.S. is how the country remembers veterans during a military funeral. Now, an East Tennessee Honor Guard unit is looking for new members to accept the role of continuing that tradition.
Sergent Nik Vames serves as Commander for the American Legion Post 202 Honor Guard in Gatlinburg, where he is recruiting new volunteers.
Vames says Sevier County only has a handful of units available for burial services. With more World War II veterans dying each day, and Korean and Vietnam War veterans aging quickly, Vames says Honor Guards are responsible for more funerals.
However, his unit has lost many members in recent years due to old age, or even death.
"Every Color Guard and every Honor Guard faces the same situation. The older gentlemen who have the heart and desire no longer have the physical ability, therefore a new generation needs to step up," he said.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Honor Guard membership requires a serious time commitment, sometimes with several funerals in one week.
"Trying to recruit new people in this area is difficult, mainly because the folks we are seeking to get into our organization have jobs. They're working and supporting their families," Vames said.
Commander John Arends of the East Tennessee Honor Guard says that unit keeps a number of volunteers on reserve.
"The Vietnam era veterans seem to be the bulk, because we're in the retirement mode now and we basically want to give back," Arends said. "And the younger guys can do it, it's just a question of their job, if they can get away."
For those who can offer the time, Vames says it's worth every minute.
"It is an honor and privilege to be there in the last moments with these families when they're saying goodbye with their loved ones," he says. "You hear what impact these soldiers had not only on our freedom but also this family. And now this family is saying goodbye, and being a part of that, it makes us very connected."
If you're interested in volunteering, you can contact Vames at (865) 201-1246