Chuck Morris, commander of the Veterans Elite Tribute Squad in Piqua, made a quick decision in 1989 that has evolved into his spending hundreds of hours each year in service to his deceased fellow soldiers.
Morris served in the U.S. Army from 1964 until 1967 as an X-ray technician, and some of that time was spent as part of medical support for an engineering battalion charged with building roads in Thailand.
Morris’ vow to form the tribute squad in Piqua came when his uncle, Ralph Harvey, died in January of 1989 and there was no honor guard to bid him farewell at his burial services. Harvey was in the U.S. Army Air Corps (later the U.S. Air Force) in World War II and served as a turret gunner on a B-17. His bomber was shot down over Germany, and he became a prisoner of war of the Germans.
Other members of Morris’s squad have their own reasons for serving. Paul Penny, U.S. Army 1967-1970 (in Korea with the Pueblo incident), responds to my question of why he serves with a quotation from President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”
Gary Ross, U.S. Army, 1966-1968, says, “I lost men in my squad in 1968 in Vietnam. Two of the young men had not been in country 30 days when they were killed. I personally knew half the men in Piqua who were killed in war during the Vietnam Era.”
And there is Mark Schilling, U.S. Navy 1974-1980, an air crewman on a P-3 Oion, tracking Russian ballistic missile subs in the Northern Atlantic hemisphere. Schilling says, “I want to honor their service, no matter what. When my father, Dane Schilling, a World War II Army veteran who served in the South Pacific, died in 2004, it was important to me to have this special tribute to him and his service. To see the rifle squad, the presentation of the flag, to hear “Taps,” and to have the spent brass given to my mother, meant so much.”
Schilling says, “I hope someone will be there to do it for me when it’s my turn.”
Commander Morris says, “Our squad has 30 current members and is rather desperate for more as some members are quite old and on some days just don’t feel well enough to participate. We go ahead, rain or shine, snow or no snow, temperature in the 90s or at zero, and we do about 85 services a year.
“And it’s ideal to have seven riflemen for a 21-gun salute. And we provide the uniforms and rain coats.”
As my veteran friends leave this earth — Ken Williamson, William “Bill” Brower, Les Edsall, Fred Shively, and Lou Hart in the past two years — I want/need to know there will be their brothers and sisters in arms to bid them farewell:
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hill,
From the sky,
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.