'New' van helps MSD Honor Guard honor veterans
December 11, 2009
By L.A. Shively
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Tom Earnest gladly accepted keys to a shiny white van from John Nau during a Dec. 7 ceremony at the Memorial Plaza in San Antonio.
Nau, president and CEO of Silver Eagle Distributors, donated the 15-passenger completely refurbished, three-year-old van to replace a 10-year-old vehicle the Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment Honor Guard was using to render military honors to individuals interred at the FSH National Cemetery.
"The van we had needed everything from a new air conditioner to new tires," said Earnest, commander, MSD Honor Guard.
"It's bigger and newer and able to accommodate the group while they perform their duties," Jose Armijo, administrative officer for the FSH National Cemetery and staff supervisor for the volunteers of the MSD Honor Guard.
Earnest said the refurbished van makes maneuvering easier for the volunteers of the honor guard, many of whom were driving their own vehicles between shelters at the cemetery. The five shelters at the FSH National Cemetery give Families a comfortable place to grieve and are the locations for honor services.
"Our oldest volunteer is 92, and with our average age around 72 years, getting in and out of the old van was difficult at best," Earnest said, adding that the van is a blessing because it carries both members and weapons and eliminates the five to seven private vehicles volunteers used to travel between shelters.
The MSD Honor Guard has 81 volunteers, all retired or former military service members, willing to respond at a moments notice, rain or shine. The honor guard performs three rifle volleys of fire for the deceased veteran, plays "Taps" and ceremoniously folds and presents the flag to the veteran's Family.
Earnest said the MSD Honor Guard has done 24,000 services for Families. He has a squad performing honors Monday through Friday and although they average about nine to 11 services daily; he said they've performed as many as 15 burials in one day.
"The military doesn't do full military honors for all veterans, only retirees and those awarded Medal of Honor," Earnest said, explaining that in 1979 the Department of Defense established three categories for burial honors.
Active duty and Medal of Honor recipients receive full military honors. Retirees and veterans receive full military honors only if resources are available. Until 1988 Fort Sam Houston supported all three categories, but due to decreasing manpower Earnest said veterans were not receiving full military honors.
As a result of the efforts of Manny Rangel and the Veterans of Greater San Antonio, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Joe Ramos, then FSH National Cemetery director, the MSD Honor Guard was chartered in 1990 and began performing honor services the following year.
"I joined to give back to what the service has given me and to honor my brothers and sisters. Veterans serving veterans is our motto," said Earnest, a member for five years and serving his second year as commander.
"The solemn mission of carrying out burial services for our veterans falls to this detachment," Uresti said. "The dedicated members of this unit are owed a great debt of gratitude, and they need some help."
"Giving back to the community and supporting the men and women of our armed forces is something I have always believed in," said Nau.
"When we care for the communities we work and serve in, we are able to truly make a difference."