October 21, 2021

Honor guard honoring fallen vets needs members

Last respects

Kevin Conlon/city editor

An honor guard practices Aug. 1 before the graveside services for a veteran at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Cortland. From left are Roger Predmore, 67, of McGraw, junior vice commandant of the Cortland County Marine Corps League; Henry Cusson, 73, of Cortland, an Army veteran and a member and past commander of the Cortland Veterans of Foreign Wars post and a Homer American Legion member; and Norm Stitzel, 56, of Cortland, commandant and chaplain of the Marine Corps League.

The men lifted the rifles into the air, aimed and fired. Taps filled the air as the sound of the gun shots died out.

The salute was done by Cortland County’s honor guard. It’s a team of veterans who attend funerals, dressed in uniform and perform the final call for a veteran or military member who has died.

“It’s the respect and the honor that we should give that vet, but it’s also showing that respect to that family,” said Norm Stitzel, an honor guard member.

However, Stitzel said the honor guard may not be able to continue on if it doesn’t get more members.

“We have a lot of older guys in their 70s and they start having health issues and they can’t stand for too long,” he said. “In a few years, a lot of these guys aren’t going to be able to hold up the weapon.”

It isn’t just that the members are getting older either; the group is getting busier.

“In May, June and July we were extremely busy,” Stitzel said, noting the group attended 14 funeral details in 10 days. They also respond to requests outside the county.

“In the last six or seven years, we’ve gone out of county eight or 10 times,” Stitzel said.

Stitzel would like at least a half dozen more volunteers to join the nine or 10 he has now.

How to get involved with the honor guard

How to join
You must be a veteran and a member of a Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion or the Marine Corps League.

How to donate

Send checks, payable to the Marine Corps League, to P.O. Box 443, Cortland, N.Y., 13045 with a note saying it’s for the honor guard.

Who can have an honor guard

The National Defense Authorization Act requires an honor guard, at the family’s request, for:
• Active-duty military members or reservists.
• Former military members who served on active duty or in the reserves and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.

The guard shall have at least two members of the armed forces, at least one from the veteran’s parent service. It will, at least, fold and present the American flag to the next of kin and play Taps. When available Taps will be played by a bugler, but a recording is allowable. Many guards will also fire a three-volley salute.

Roger Predmore, a Vietnam War veteran, joined in 1994 and he is the junior vice commandant of the Cortland County Marine Corps League.

Predmore said the group definitely needs more young blood to keep it going.

“All veterans deserve a military funeral,” he said.

Henry Cusson, an Army veteran who served in Korea, said he serves on the honor guard because he likes making people happy.

“I’m proud of being American,” he said. “It’s a wonderful job. It’s an honor.”

Stitzel said once he gets more members the next thing will be to get them fitted for uniforms which cost around $200 apiece.

“Over winter, we want to really work hard to get half a dozen new members, practice and fundraise to get uniforms,” he said.