LAST HONORS: Any day without a veteran’s funeral is a good day for Pete O’Donohoe.
Not that there would be a veteran’s funeral here that he’d want to miss.
Pete is the commander of the ceremonial detail for American Legion Post 108 in Bradford. That’s the honor guard that, when invited, turns out in uniform for veterans’ funerals, comforts the family members, fires off a 21-gun salute, plays “Taps” and presents an American flag to the family.
It is a detail that is more frequently called on these days as World War II veterans age into their late 80s and 90s, with Korean War vets not far behind.
So far this year, Pete said, the ceremonial detail has been called on to appear at more than 35 veterans’ funerals in Bradford. Other veterans’ squads in Eldred, Smethport, Mount Jewett and elsewhere perform similar rites.
It’s not easy duty.
“When you give that flag to a widow, that’s tough,” Pete said. “But they’re proud of it, you could never take it away from them.”
It doesn’t matter if a deceased veteran was a member of the American Legion or not. All that’s required is military service and an honorable discharge, Pete said.
The unit was formed a bit more than four years ago, he said. Before that, there wasn’t a local honor guard for veterans’ funerals.
When a funeral home contacts Pete, he puts out calls to other members of the detail.
They are rifle squad leader George Lindy and riflemen David Bennett, Bob Schofield, Mike Thomas, Shelly Pugrant, Mike Blair, Keith Reed, Rich Luke, Norm Moreth, George Chavanic, Frank Carletta, Andy Ackler, John Walden and Brian Jenkins; honor guards Sandy Watson and Patricia Butler; buglers Don Poleto and Tom Bottorf; and flag folders O’Donohoe and post Adjutant Clair Butler.
“Two weeks ago,” Pete said, “we had two funerals on a Friday and we came right back and did two more on Saturday.”
There is another funeral today.
“We’re honored to do it,” Pete said.
The ceremonial detail will be on duty again at 11 a.m. on Monday — Veterans Day — at Bradford’s Veterans Square when colors will be raised for all branches of the military and the Merchant Marine, the riflemen will fire off a 21-shot volley and the bugler plays “Taps.”
There will be music from the Bradford High jazz band, speeches and recognition of all veterans — not only the dead, but the living, too.