Veterans always take care of their own. Max Klein is convinced of that.
The Penn Township man is not worried about the future of the aging Cumberland County Honor Guard.
“I’m sure there are willing young veterans out there,” the 31-year-old former Marine says.
“A lot of them do not even know about the opportunity,” he adds. “Somebody is going to make it happen.”
Klein is the newest and youngest recruit of an honor guard that celebrated its 10th anniversary Thursday.
The Iraqi War veteran left the Marine Corps in 2003 after serving as a martial arts instructor and later as a member of an air support liaison team during the initial stages of the invasion.
“I’d always enjoyed honor guard detail when I was on active duty,” Klein says. “I saw it as an honor serving the families of departed veterans. It means a lot to them.”
That is why Klein joined the honor guard six months ago, and why he’s optimistic other younger veterans will step up and keep the organization going for decades.
“We’re going to carry the torch, recruit when necessary, and keep the honor guard strong,” Klein says. “We will keep it rolling.”
John Connolly helped to start the honor guard in 1998 as county director of veterans affairs. He is a former deputy commandant of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks.
While the honor guard has enough volunteers for two squads, half of its 58 members are between 60 to 75 years old, Connolly says. Members include two World War II veterans in their 80s.
“We can always use more veterans coming into the organization, especially younger veterans,” Connolly says. “We’re looking at the long term.”
With World War II and Korean War veterans dying at an unprecedented rate, he adds, the demand on the honor guard has increased over the years.
So far this year, honor guard members have participated in 129 funerals, 16 events and 17 transports of veterans to medical appointments, Connolly says.
To meet demand, the honor guard is divided into two squads — one covering the first 15 days of each month, the other the last half.
“We’ve been blessed with good members,” Connolly says. “We would like to attract more veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Shippensburg-area veterans have joined together to form an honor guard based around American Legion and VFW posts, Connolly says. This has helped to ease the burden on county honor guard members by keeping travel down.
“We cover all of Cumberland County,” Connolly says. “What is important are the families. You can not believe how much they appreciate it.”
Honor guard members fire a volley in salute and fold the American flag to present to family. There are also volunteer buglers who play taps during funeral services.
‘There to pay respect’
Doug Fenton, 44, of West Pennsboro Township has been an honor guard member since 1999. An Army veteran, he participated in the 1983 Invasion of Grenada.
Fenton joined the honor guard to give something back to the community and in salute to his late grandfathers, Frank William Fenton and Charles Coyle, both World War II veterans.
“You are there for the families,” Fenton says. “You are there to pay respect. It is important to keep the memory and honor of our veterans alive.”
Volunteers have to be committed to the cause, Connolly says, adding: “We don’t need any social members.”
Fenton adds it can be a challenge for honor guard members to accommodate multiple services per month in all kinds of weather.
“You do not have to be at every single funeral,” Fenton says. “They try to spread it around. If you are willing to do this, you can make it work.”
Benefits of joining honor guard include camaraderie, Klein says. “There are a lot of great guys. They have welcomed me with open arms. I look forward to continuing to work with and learn from them.”
Honor guard members also participate in community events and organize an annual Christmas party for veterans at the Claremont Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.