Dawson Carol

They answer the call when needed by a grieving widow or parent. They answer the call even when snow, ice or rain makes it difficult to walk, much less to march while carrying flags and rifles.

They answer the call even when their own bodies ache from pains they choose to ignore. They answer the call to honor the veterans of the United States of America.

Our Extra Milers this month are the members of the Veterans of Foreign War/American Legion Color Guard/Honor Guard of Charlestown. They are a group of men who continue to answer the call to duty today, just as they did years ago when they answered our nation’s call to service.

I met these Extra Milers during a Color/Honor Guard service held prior to a windy 5K race in Jeffersonville. They arrived on a blue military looking bus. They arrived early; being late is not an option for what they do. They marched in their military uniforms, holding with pride the American flag, along with the VFW and American Legion flags.

As they began the ceremony, the National Anthem played in the background. The flags whipped in the wind — demanding attention. After the anthem, the bugler, Carroll Adams, beautifully performed taps.

As the music began, the wind momentarily stopped as if receding in respect to our veterans. Many of the runners were moved to tears and I realized how privileged I was to be standing in this spot — in this state — in this country — and near these men.

After the ceremony, Capt. Tom Cook and his men came by my office to be interviewed. There was a natural camaraderie within the group, as they easily laughed and joked with one another. As a military brat, I felt respect and an immediate kinship.

These men serve as Color/Honor Guard over veterans’ funerals and special ceremonies. This means being called out about 50 or more times a year, which includes presenting the flag at more than 30 funerals annually.

Two of the Color Guard members are 89 years old, Bill Cheesman and Garnett Lowe. Lowe has been a Color Guard member for 61 years. It has become difficult for some of the men to walk or stand for long periods, but they will continue on until they are unable to walk.

I asked the men about their motivation. Capt. Cook clearly spoke for the entire group when he responded, “We do it out of honor and respect for our great country and for the veterans who serve and have honorably served in our military.”

They do it for their heroes — especially for the soldiers who served and didn’t come home. They also do it for the families who stand humbly by the graveside of their fallen veteran sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

The constant theme throughout our conversation was honor, dignity and respect. They are all proud of this country, and despite the troubles we are having, these men believe the United Sates is the greatest country in the world. So great, several said they would serve in the military again today if they were called to duty.

Fiercely patriotic, they also know the importance of friendship and enjoying one another’s company to ensure they stay together — especially when performing such daunting and emotional tasks as military funerals.

When asked about the funniest thing that occurred during a ceremony, the men laughed in tandem. Turns out, there are many, but one stood out. It was during a military funeral. Ward Tacket had not served previously as the Firer; however, he was the only person available and volunteered to shoot one of the rifles.

After the gun salute, Capt. Cook was reaching across the grave for the flag when Ward accidentally hit the trigger instead of the safety and the rifle went off. Capt. Cook was so startled by the unexpected loud noise that he nearly fell into the grave. The widow went from sobbing to hardly able to contain her laughter.

They also laughed at the time Chuck Grose’s cell phone started ringing during a ceremony and instead of turning it off, he just grabbed it out of his pocket and threw it as far as he could, breaking it to pieces.

After the laughter subsided, I asked what they do when they are not working. Ted Holder spoke up, “We occasionally talk about women.” I smiled and said, “Respectfully, I presume.” “Of course,” and with a sly grin he added, “You know, we may be old, but we are not dead.”

These men are irrefutably youthful, with more passion for life than many people half their age.

Typical of Extra Milers, the men wanted to thank others for allowing them to do what they can for our veterans. They thanked the American Legion, the VFW, the auxiliary women who make sure they have a warm meal waiting when they come back from Color Guard duty, the sons of the American Legion and the men’s auxiliary.

The Charlestown Color/Honor Guard members are undeniably Extra Milers for Southern Indiana. They are friends, bound together by common bonds. They believe wholeheartedly in this country and in the military men and women who currently are serving. During our interview, it occurred to me that they serve as our country’s backbone — our strongest link to freedom … and all they have ever asked in return is to know what they do is appreciated.

These men have undeniably answered the call, because their job is critical. As long as their bodies will allow them to get on that blue bus, they will stand proud with the flag and honor the veterans of this country. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Carol A. Dawson is a resident of Jeffersonville and owner of EEO GUIDANCE Inc. If you have seen or been a part of an act of kindness or know an EXTRA MILER, contact her. To submit an Extra Miler, a story, or act of kindness, contact Carol via e-mail: Cdawson@eeoguidance.com, mail: THE EXTRA MILERS, The Evening News, 221 Spring Street Jeffersonville, IN, 47130-3340.

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