The crack of six rifles broke across the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, their echo waning as a lone bugler began playing the first solemn notes of taps.
Laid to rest under sunny Montana skies was a veteran, his family gathered to pay their final respects, and the Lewis and Clark Veterans Council Honor Guard there to ensure he received a proper military burial. LCVC is looking for a few more veterans to join them.
“It doesn’t matter what the temperature is. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, we’re out there,” said Howard Davis, serving as chaplain. “Because it’s not about us if we get hot or cold, it’s about the veteran.”
LCVC formed in 1947 following World War II. Survivors returned to their lives in Montana, but soon saw a need for an organization to conduct military funerals.
“Nobody was doing anything and those WWII vets said ‘This isn’t right, these people, these men and women served their country, they deserve full military honors,’” Davis said. “It’s the same concept now as when they started in '47. That veteran served his or her country, they earned the honors and somebody’s got to do it so we’re going to do it.”
Davis was inspired to join after some of those WWII veterans presided over two of his uncles’ funerals more than a quarter-century ago.
“I, as part of the family, saw those veterans standing out there and knew how old they were,” he said. “They needed replacements, so when I retired I decided that’s what I’m going to do.”
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LCVC is a bit unique among honor guards in that it is unaffiliated with veteran services organizations. Positions in the honor guard include riflemen, bugler and a chaplain, if requested by the family.
Military code dictates the folding of an American flag for the family and the playing of taps. The flag must be folded by two uniformed members of the military, one of which must be from the same branch of the military as the veteran being laid to rest.
LCVC tailors the rest of its services to every family’s wishes, said Commander Doug Brown.
“Whatever the family wants is how it works,” he said.
David Blade is a bugler in the honor guard who started because a recording of taps was being used and he believed the service deserved a live rendition. He has been a part of more than 800 military funerals, including playing at his father’s where he had a backup bugler in case he was unable to complete the song.
“I think once you’ve done this a few times there’s a motivation to keep going,” he said. “Out of my 805 now, the ones that are really sad for me are the ones where there are no one there but us, where there’s no family.”
The honor guard covers an area from roughly Craig to Boulder to Townsend and is in high demand with more than 150 funerals each year across area cemeteries. Some members have been a part of more than 2,000 military funerals, with veterans coming from across the country. LCVC offers its services free of charge but does see some federal funding as well as honorariums from families.