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The North Bend Eagle


Honor guard
Members of the North Bend and Morse Bluff VFW, AmVets and American Legion form
an honor guard at the July 12 funeral of Leon Semrad.

Honor guard salutes fallen veterans one final time

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 7/27/11

Whenever a veteran is buried in the North Bend, Morse Bluff, Linwood or surrounding area, he or she knows that comrades will be there for a send off.

“Tears came to our eyes when we saw these proud and humble men in formation at the church to honor the arrival of our dad,” Kathy Krepel said. Her father, Leon Semrad was a World War II veteran.

The local honor guard is made up from members of Morse Bluff American Legion Post 340, North Bend’s VFW Post 8223 and AmVets Post 20.

In 1992 Ray Stranik became commander of the American Legion post. One of his duties was to organize the honor guard for veterans’ funerals. When his year as commander was up, he offered to remain funeral director, a position he still fills 19 years later.

“It used to be disorganized with a new commander every year,” Stranik said. “I thought it would be better if one person did the organization.”

To date Stranik, 77, has organized 128 funerals. He keeps a notebook with all the funerals in it and little notations - the name, date of funeral, branch of service the veteran was in, and any other remarkable notes (“Freedom Riders there,”
“one man fainted,” “many compliments”). He also notes the weather (“hot, humid, 95º,” “clear, 30º,” “cold, 45º, NW wind 25,” “cloudy, drizzley, all in church,” “rain, got soaked”).

The usual routine begins by saluting the veteran when the hearse arrives at the funeral. Afterwards they form an honor guard from the door to the hearse. Proceeding to the cemetery ahead of the funeral procession, they present arms when the hearse arrives and hold their salute until the casket is in place over the burial ground. After the minister has said his words, the veteran chaplain does a reading then there is the final salute to the veteran. The honor guard presents arms and holds its salute while taps is played. After taps the flag over the casket is folded and given to the family.

“We tailor it to what the family desires,” Stranik said.

All or part of the ceremony can be done wherever the family wants– it can be done at the church or funeral home. Funeral homes know to contact Stranik for any veteran’s funeral. Stranik then usually gets Carroll Wiebold to help organize an honor guard. In his notebook Stranik lists those who have served at funerals or on Memorial Day.

“It is understood that if you’re a veteran you’ll be in the honor guard for anyone who has served in the military,” Stranik said. “We are very fortunate to have three organizations working together, or we would be hard pressed to have enough people.”

The Memorial Day honor guard gets a little complicated with seven cemeteries covered by the local veteran organizations. There is an east and west group, with all meeting at the Veteran’s Park for the final service and then a potluck at the VFW Hall.

There are many men who Stranik can call upon for honor guard duty. Not all are comfortable on the firing squad, so that selection is limited.

“We are fortunate to have the buglers,” Stranik said.

Rollie Otte, Mike Eason and Ralph Diffey are veterans who can play taps. Youth in the community have also added their talent on occasion.

Vietnam veteran Jerry Kruger, 59, has been serving on honor guards since returning from his military duty in 1976.

“It’s the right thing to do for those who served our country,” he said. “Some are friends I got to know through the veterans organizations.”

Gene Sic, 63, has been on the honor guard for five years. He feels it is a nice gesture to do for people and he enjoys the camaraderie with the other veterans.

Bill Chromy, 66, has been active in the Honor Guard since he got out of the service in 1971.

“It’s an honor to serve in the military,” Chromy said. “It’s an honor to be in an honor guard and say thank you one last time for the time they served, whether it was in a war or not. They gave precious years of their lives, and I can surely spare a couple hours to say thank you.”

Like Stranik, the veterans all voiced the knowledge that when their time comes, other veterans will be there to honor them.

Veterans not mentioned or pictured who also give time to serve on the honor guard include Leonard Dobrusky, Gene Ruzicka, LeRoy Dvorak, Mike Brabec, Tom Stranik, Dave Otte, Harvey Babec, Doug Wamberg, Larry Feala, Ze Heller, Butch Ott, Paul Shavlik, Gary Hampl, Waldo Janssen, Billy Chromy, Steve Wiederspan, Jack Kloke, and John Wennekamp, among others.

“This demonstration of their genuine support will give us unending comfort and was felt with great appreciation,” a member of the Semrad family wrote after Leon’s funeral. “The honor guard strengthened the pride we already felt for our dad and helped ease our sorrow.”

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