Band of brothers volunteer time for love of country
By ALLISON SELK Shaw Media correspondent
Sept. 12, 2015
Four days a week, this self-proclaimed “band of brothers” provides a final memory and tribute for the friends and families of those who have served in the United States military.
Rain, shine, sleet or snow, members of the 130-strong Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad perform services – sometimes up to 22 per day – to honor those who have been honorably discharged.
According to the ALNC, in 2001 John Whiteside of The Herald-News and the Honorary Jerry Weller initiated the idea of establishing an honor detail at the cemetery. The memorial squad was inaugurated Aug. 26, 2003, with the first service being performed Sept. 9, 2003.
About 4,000 services are performed each year, with a total of 44,000 service men and women buried at the cemetery.
The squad arrives starting at 9:30 a.m. to prepare their uniforms and gear for the services.
While they wait to be called for a service, they enjoy fellowship by playing cards, telling stories, and sipping a cup of coffee.
It’s a truly a group whose members enjoy being around each other, while working for a common purpose.
“We do this for one purpose only, to provide a lasting effect for the service that the deceased veteran provided for our nation,” squad member Kenny Delrose said.
The average age of the members is close to 70 years old, having volunteers ranging from 50 years old to 91.
“When I look around the room, I see America’s history,” Squad Commander Steve Admonis said.
The squad is called to service over the radio, and each members grabs his or her jacket and either the flag, rifle or bugle, to correspond with a given job at the service. They walk solemnly out of the door, down the sidewalk through a forest of trees, and enter the shelter, where the seven American flags – along with the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and POW/MIA flags – are flying.
The rifleman and bugler take their spots, while the men with the flag and the greeters stay in the shelter, waiting for the family’s arrival.
After the family arrives, the squad leader calls the rifle team to attention. They shoot three volleys, present arms and the bugler plays taps. The squad then resumes into parade rest; the flag is unfolded and folded and presented to the family, as are three shells to represent the three volleys.
According to squad member Bill Porter, this process takes about 10 to 12 minutes, and then the family is left alone to have a private service before they leave for burial if desired.
“It is an emotional job is to present the flag,” Admonis said. “They guys do it meticulously and honorably, folding it gently and lovingly. The flag means a lot to this nation.”
Squad member Joe Rende of Lockport said some funerals are more emotional than others.
“Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep my cool,” he said. “Words cannot express the feeling I get inside.”
When asked why they are so dedicated – some drive up to an hour for a volunteer job – the answers were all the same.
It’s for the love of country.
It’s to honor veterans.
And it’s the right thing to do.
“I delivered papers when I was 12 years old,” squad member Jack Gleason of Joliet said. “I had to get up every morning rain or shine because people had to have their papers. I guess it’s [dedication] built in – and more so after my military training.”
Even in the extreme heat of summer or a harsh winter day, the ceremony must go on. Squad member Clifford Lauderdale said the weather doesn’t bother him.
“If the family wants a ceremony and can make it out and sit in the cold, then I can come out and do that ceremony for them,” he said.
Delrose is proud of his squad and what they do for the veterans.
“We might have a funeral with 75 cars or a service with only one person in attendance,” he said. “It matters little to the squad if the vet came from a big family or is a homeless guy.
“We perform each and every service with the attitude of that person being a hero.”