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Honor guards: Veterans groups remind public of Memorial Day’s true meaning

DeKALB – The colors of the U.S. flag spell freedom in Cliff Seldal’s book, and they are the colors that will adorn the graves of fallen veterans this weekend.

Seldal, a former Marine sergeant who served in the Korean War, said veterans who sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms of Americans must be honored. He said Memorial Day is an especially important holiday for veterans.

“I think it’s up to the veterans to keep it alive,” Seldal said.

Seldal is one of about 155 members of American Legion Post 66, a nonprofit organization in DeKalb that assists veterans. The organization primarily offers Honor Guard services for military funerals. For the families of some veterans, it’s not possible to afford Honor Guard services.

Legionnaire Steven Marberry, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, said families are entitled to an Honor Guard service for their loved ones who served.

“We’re going to do everything we can to provide it,” Marberry said. 

American Legion Post 66, along with the DeKalb AMVETS Post 90 and DeKalb Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2287, will expand their efforts to honor local soldiers who died by placing almost 2,000 flags on their graves for Memorial Day weekend. The veterans will be assisted by local Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Throughout the weekend, they will continue visiting cemeteries and performing memorial services. 

For Memorial Day on Monday, Legionnaires from Post 66 plan to be at the Memorial Clock Corner on First Street and Lincoln Highway. The commanders from American Legion Post 66, VFW Post 2287 and AMVETS Post 90 will place a wreath at the clock. American Legion Post 66 will then lead the parade and hand out more than 500 flags. 

Marberry said coping with the deaths of veterans and loved ones is a part of life. Each year, their organization loses one or two members who were close to them, he said. At other times they’ll lose people they knew but weren’t close to.

“But they’re all part of our brotherhood and sisterhood,” Marberry said.

American Legion Post 66 was chartered in 1919. Outside of performing Honor Guard services at military funerals, they sponsor baseball teams, give high school and middle school scholarships and help send teenagers interested in becoming police officers to police academies. The task of providing Honor Guard services is more important for Legionnaire Jerry Kempson, a former paratrooper in the Army.

“That’s what I’m really here for,” Kempson said. “Just to assist families in honoring veterans.” 

At every funeral, the Legionnaires who perform the Honor Guard service fire three volleys from 9 1/2-pound M1 rifles. Marberry said that tradition goes back to the Civil War, when soldiers would fire three volleys as a signal before picking up dead or wounded soldiers. They will also perform Taps, a song commonly played at military funerals.

Performing the Honor Guard services is not always a sad affair. Legionnaire Dan Gallagher, a former Marine, said the camaraderie the veterans have with each other helps them through it. A sense of pride also permeates the ceremonies. 

“I’ve formed some good friendships just meeting these men and women,” Gallagher said. 

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