TRAVERSE CITY — Bill Volkening’s white-gloved right hand snapped to attention, fingertips set just off his eyebrow, as the last rifle volley echoed across the cemetery.
The final salute is one the Army veteran practiced plenty of times during his years on the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2780 honor guard. It’s a sign of respect Volkening said veterans and their families deserve. It is respect members of the honor guard paid for decades, no matter the location or the weather.
Four men to Volkening’s left lowered their rifles to a position of attention as Al Ockert played the 24 mournful notes that comprise “Taps” on his bugle. The 10 men shivered a bit as cool spring drizzle collected on their caps and glasses.
None of them knew George Platte. They didn’t know the Detroit native served in the U.S. Army for three years during World War II. Nor did they know he was a tank commander and gunner in the Philippines.
All they needed to know is Platte, 89, was a veteran who honorably served his country.
The men, all military veterans, stood silent and motionless while the group’s chaplain carefully handed a folded American flag to Platte’s son, G. Randy Platte.
“On behalf of a grateful nation ...” the chaplain said, eyes locked on the younger Platte’s.
Members of the VFW honor guard, with some help from American Legion Post 35, performed military honors at 128 funeral or memorial services for veterans in 2013. The men racked up 13,567 miles on their personal vehicles and 1,922 man hours to provide those services.
They asked for nothing in return. They wouldn’t.
“Most of the vets we don’t know,” said Ken Thomas, a long-time honor guard member. “All of us do this as volunteers because we feel a respect for both the veteran and the family.”