By ELODIE REED
Messenger Staff Writer
As printed in the October 10, 2014 Edition
ST.ALBANS — Thanks to the St. Albans military honor guard, no local veteran’s funeral is sparsely attended.
The honor guard – made up of American Legion Green Mountain Post #1 and Veteran ofForeign Wars Post 758 members mostly in their 80’s with active duty military background in World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War – never misses a St. Albans military service. At least five or six members of the guard attend each funeral, there to support the family, present an American flag to next of kin, and play “Taps.”
“Along time ago we didn’t have anybody that showed up and these guys took it upon themselves to make sure someone [did],” said Heald Funeral Home owner Rett Heald.
And for that service, Heald has put on an annual appreciation luncheon for that honor guard for the past 10 years.
“It’s just our way of saying thank you to everyone involved,” Heald said.
On Thursday, around 50 people attended this year’s luncheon held at the American Legion. Honor guard volunteers, their spouses, local clergymen, alter servers, and Heald associates gathered to enjoy food and conversation while remembering local deceased veterans and their families.
In the blessing given by American Legion chaplain, Swanton resident and WWII veteran Armand Boudreau, attendees also remembered Pauline Lussier, an 83-year-old St. Albans resident who died in a car accident Wednesday and who had planned on attending the luncheon yesterday.
According to Heald, he began holding a luncheon catered by Bob Santini’s Bayview Catering service and hosted by the American Legion each year in order to show honor guard volunteers how appreciated they were.
“To the families that we serve, they’re more than happy that we’re involved,” said Heald. He added that fact isn’t always apparent to the honor guard veterans.
“These gentlemen don’t see that like we do,” Heald said. “It means a lot to the families.” Heald went on to talk about the commitment of the honor guard volunteers, who may attend between two and three military services each week. “They’re dedicated,”said Heald. “There’s always at least half a dozen at a funeral.”
“From all walks of life,” added Stan Dukas, a veteran and Heald associate as well asa St. Albans Town Selectboard member.
Heald continued, “They’re an older group but the younger ones are starting to come on now.” Robert“Shorty” Goulette, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, currently organizes the honor guard volunteers in St. Albans, though he is quick to point out that Fred Bliss, another local veteran, was the original coordinator. “It goes back to Fred Bliss – got this started years ago,” said Goulette. “Fred has done a very good job over the years.”
Goulette echoed Heald on the older nature of the honor guard. “Up until three weeks ago, I was the baby of the group and I’m 85,” he said, chuckling. Goulette added of the job the honor guard does for deceased veterans, “They’ve been in the service and somebody ought to do this.”
According to those who volunteer to help out at military services, they’re happy to do so. Burt Cross, an 83-year-old WWII-era veteran from St. Albans, said yesterday, “We enjoy it.”
Christopher Constantine, a 38-year-old alter server at Holy Angels Parish in St. Albans, said, “They need younger people to help.”
Paul Bouchard, an 87-year-old WWII veteran and St. Albans resident said, “I’m happy to do something for the deceased veterans.”