'To Honor With Diginity'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Victor J. Caputo
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"To Honor With Dignity."

This is one of several mottos used in the McConnell Air Force Base Honor Guard, and it is by far the one taken the most seriously.

Everybody on base has seen the Honor Guard at change of commands, promotions ceremonies and other base-wide events, but who exactly are they supposedly honoring in such a dignified way? The deserving targets of this honor are the veterans who have previously sacrificed time in their lives to fight for our country.

Since I joined the base Honor Guard in June, I have had the honor of being part of 20 funerals for Air Force and Army veterans. These men and women came from all different walks of life and came into the military under different circumstances. Some were drafted during Vietnam, did their time and separated; others chose to wear the uniform for more than 20 years and retired after a life of service.

The one thing that each individual had in common was the sense of gratitude they passed on to their families.

Every time we would fold the American flag over the casket, perform a three person firing team, or ceremoniously carried the casket across a field to the final resting place, the emotions were tangible.

Presenting the flag to the next of kin at the end of the funeral is the most powerfully emotional action that many of us in the Honor Guard have ever had with a complete stranger. The sobs of sorrow and sadness often turn to tears of appreciation and thanks as we place the American flag under their left hand.

The funeral is frequently the last close contact with the military that the family will have, and the Airmen in the Honor Guard train continually to leave a lasting good impression to those who witness the honors rendered.

Out of the more than 16 million men and women who served during World War II, less than 1.8 million are left. There are roughly 2.3 million Korean War veterans and over 7 million Vietnam veterans currently living, and unfortunately, these numbers are steadily dropping.

The Airmen in the Honor Guard here try to be everywhere at once, but when we are called to honor these fallen veterans, everything is dropped. We cover the vast majority of Kansas, which means many of us have spent more than 10 hours traveling to and from a location for only 10 minutes of work, but the thanks and love that we receive from the families drive us forward.

The Honor Guard will be there to escort a veteran to their final resting place, whether they served one year or an entire lifetime. After the sacrifices made by all the Airmen before us, we here at the McConnell Honor Guard are proud to bring them honor with dignity.