Hendricks County Honor Guard Recognizes Local Veterans Who Have Passed On

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing

Photographer / Darnell Scott

The Hendricks County Honor Guard started in 1999 with a purpose of honoring soldiers by performing primarily graveside military functions as rifleman, blowing Taps and folding and presenting the American flag to the next of kin.

“I’ve stood in line many times and watched grown men cry after we fire and blow Taps,” says Robert Schmidt, Commander of the Hendricks County (HC) Honor Guard since 2001. “It’s very emotional.”

Since its inception, the HC Honor Guard has done 895 funerals in Hendricks County. Though the majority of the funerals take place here in the county, they do go to surrounding counties as long as the deceased is a resident of Hendricks County.

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, they operate independent of the American Legion or VFW. They currently have 19 people who serve as volunteers, though they are always in search of more help. Anyone 18 years or older can get involved, and one doesn’t have to be in the service or have served in the military.

“Some people volunteer because their dad was in the service or they want to honor someone they love,” Schmidt says. “We welcome and train anybody who is of age.”

They average about one funeral a week, though at times they have done two or three in one day. They work with the funeral directors in the county, who call with details of the deceased, including their age, the time and place of the funeral as well as the branch the deceased has served in.

Schmidt notes that the law says that two people from the deceased’s branch (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) must be there. That’s not true of the HC Honor Guard.

We’re the icing on top of the cake,” Schmidt says. “It’s your right to have the two people from your branch of service there. It’s a rite that we are there.”

In addition to providing these services at funerals, the HC Honor Guard also participates in color guard once or twice a month. They also occasionally speak to children at schools or Boy Scout club meetings. For example, they might explain to students why the American flag gets folded into a triangle. In case you’re curious about the answer, Schmidt says that during the Revolutionary War, the hat the soldiers wore was called a tri-cap.

“It was three-part cap, had three-quarters to it, and that’s why we fold the flag into a three-quarter fold,” Schmidt says. “It has to be just exactly perfect.”

Following the funeral, next of kin also receives an envelope, the contents of which holds the 21 shells from the firing. Also included in the envelope is a paper with the HC Honor Guard’s logo and an explanation of their purpose. Family members or others who have attended the funeral often make a donation, which is always appreciated because the HC Honor Guard never charges for their services — “and we never will,” insists Schmidt.

We stay afloat simply on the generosity of the people that we serve,” Schmidt says. The money goes towards things like clothing as each volunteer is supplied with four shirts, two pairs of pants, a heavy-duty all-weather coat, a lightweight jacket and a coat that looks like a trooper’s jacket — all of which totals $1,000.

“We completely outfit the person from your shoes to your cover — that’s your hat,” Schmidt adds. “All you have to do is provide a pair of skivvies and a pair of socks.”

Though every funeral is poignant in its own way, last year Schmidt and his colleagues helped bury two members of their group who had passed.

“We stood coffin detail at the viewings for them, flanking the coffin on both sides like the military does,” says Schmidt, who escorted the widows to the tent at the burial site. “We also brought the color guard with full regalia and full firing squad to show our appreciation for them.”

Michael Letourneau, Vice Commander with the Hendricks County Honor Guard appreciates the thank-you letters the group receives from family members who appreciate the Honor Guard’s presence.

“They tell us what a great experience it was for their grandchildren to see and learn what we do,” Letourneau says. “The gratitude comes from every which way.”

To make a donation to the HC Honor Guard, send it to P.O. Box 112, Pittsboro, IN 46167.

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