DuBOIS — In observance of Veterans Day — a day to honor those who have served the nation — the DuBois Area Honor Guard conducted a program for students at DuBois Area High School Tuesday.
“This Friday, you do not have school, you probably don’t remember that it’s Veterans Day,” said Mike Skehan, commander of the DuBois Area Honor Guard. “This is a national holiday (that) will celebrate and honor the service of men and women who have served in the military, as well as those who presently find themselves in harm’s way as they guard the gates of freedom – sacrifices these men and women have made and that are now making can never be properly repaid.”
Skehan asked the students to take a moment to say a prayer to honor the young men and women in the military and to ask for their safekeeping.
“These men and women find themselves in foreign, very hostile lands, facing situations that their parents hoped and prayed their children would never have to face,” Skehan said. “I would ask that each of you remember that all the freedoms we have, and we have more freedoms in this country than any other place in the world, I want to ask you to remember the freedoms that we enjoy are not a gift. They are an earned benefit paid for with the blood of heroes, like Brockway’s Lieutenant, Chris Loudon, killed in action, Afghanistan; Staff Sgt. Mike Tully, killed in action, Iraq; as well as this high school’s Josh Martino, killed in an unfortunate accident while training.”
Skehan, a veteran of the U.S. Army, as well as two years overseas working for Army intelligence, told the students that the honor guard’s primary mission is to represent the Commander in Chief in the rendering of military honors at funerals and at memorial services for honorably discharged veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Each year, they conduct a service at approximately 60 funerals, in addition to attending 9/11, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day events, as well as special occasions like the Wounded Warrior Campaign and the Boot Campaign.
“We’re very active in our community, and we want to give back to this area, this country,” Skehan said. “We lay wreaths at ceremonies at cemeteries, and we go to personal care homes where some of our veterans, unfortunately, are not forgotten up there. We don’t forget.”
Those honor guard members attending Tuesday’s assembly were Dick Trudgen, Denny Knarr, Paul Harris, Tony Waylonis and John Hibner.
Trudgen said he spent 32 1/2 years teaching in the DuBois area systems and has been with the Honor Guard since 2001.
“This is something that I cherish and look forward to doing for many more years,” Trudgen said.
Waylonis said he was in the very first graduating class from DuBois High School in 1964 and has been with the Honor Guard for about seven years.
“It’s one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done in my life,” Waylonis said. “If you folks find yourself going out in the world and eventually coming back to this area, I would encourage you, no matter what age, to think about joining our group. You will never regret it.”
Harris, who taught in the DASD for 35 years, has been a member of the Honor Guard for 12 years.
“It doesn’t seem that long. There are a number of things that we do that have been very rewarding,” Harris said.
Knarr said he walked through the high school doors in 1967, then joined the Army, spent three years on active duty, and joined the Army Reserve program in 1975, retiring in June 2009 with a little more than 40 years of service total.
Knarr has been in the Honor Guard for nine years and is the senior vice commander.
“I fill in for Mike when he’s not able to be with us. It really warms me up a little bit to see such a larger crowd here than what we were used to seeing before. So I appreciate you coming out,” Knarr said.
Hibner is the junior vice commander of the Honor Guard.
“I cherish the role that the Honor Guard plays within the DuBois and surrounding communities,” Hibner said. “I am a United States Marine Corps combat veteran from Vietnam. I received two Purple Hearts for wounds received. I have shrapnel in a hand and I was shot. I joined the Honor Guard for the simple reason that I wanted to give back to the people who gave to me and taught me so much. I also graduated from DuBois Area High School in 1967 and joined the Marine Corps right after that. We do a job that every veteran deserves to have a military funeral and give him tribute for his service to our country. We wish that for them, and we’ll do anything that we can to make sure that that happens.”
Skehan stated that he was attached to the Army Signal Corp.
“I was a cryptology specialist, and my job was to transmit and receive secret and top secret coded messages from units all over the world to our European headquarters, which was, at that time, Paris, France,” Skehan said. “I also am retired from the teaching profession 35 years here in DuBois. I taught in the high school for 31 years.”
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to be a commander of the DuBois Area Honor Guard since 2005,” Skehan said. “Our Honor Guard is not affiliated with the VFW or the American Legion, although we do belong to both of these. We have 16 members who volunteer their time, their energy, to render final military honors. We all must be certified by the Department of Defense, and are therefore authorized to represent the Commander in Chief as we provide that veteran and his family the last and full measure of honor and of respect due that veteran, who was, after all, willing to sacrifice his life in defense of this country.”
“The New Testament tells us there is no greater love than for one man to lay down his life for another,” Skehan said. “Our fallen veterans have demonstrated that love with their blood, their sweat, their tears, their courage, and even their lives. It has been said that a nation that forgets its veterans will itself be soon forgotten. This nation has come very close to forgetting its veterans. Vietnam comes to mind.”
He shared a prayer with the students that was written by Father Dennis O’Brien, chaplain of the United States Marine Corps. It’s entitled, ‘It Is The Soldier.’
”It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath that flag, and whose coffin is draped by that flag, who allows the protestor to burn that flag.” Father Dennis O’Brien, Chaplain United States Marine Corps.
By law, as an Honor Guard they must, at the very minimum, provide a deceased veteran’s family with the playing of Taps, the firing of three rifle volleys, and a folding and a presentation of the American flag to the family of the deceased military veteran.
“There is a tradition of firing three volleys. It is not a 21 gun salute. That’s not what we’re talking about. This is three volleys. The practice of firing three volleys over the grave originated in the Old Testament, holding hostilities to remove the dead from the battlefield,” Skehan said. “Primarily this started in the Civil War. Once each Army had cleared their dead, they would fire three volleys to indicate the dead have been cared for and that they’re ready to fight again. Three volleys over the casket has become a tradition to mean that the dead have been cared for. It has evolved into a military salute for our deceased veteran for service to his country or to her country.”
Firing three volleys over the casket is one of the highest honors to give a deceased military veteran, Skehan said.
“Our nation’s highest honor is this American flag draped over the casket, folded and presented to the veteran’s family,” Skehan continued. “Tradition is to place three spent shell casings inside the folded up flag to prove now and forevermore that our deceased veteran and his flag have had proper military honors. The three spent shells represent duty, honor, and country. Nothing else would be placed in that flag.”
Trudgen then rendered Taps on the bugle for the students. The assembly ended with the Honor Guard showing the students how to properly fold a flag.