As the twentieth century drew to a close, decreases in the size of the United States Armed Forces, coupled with the escalating number of deaths of World War II and Korean War veterans, threatened to overwhelm the ability of the active duty services to provide appropriate military rites for deceased veterans. In response, a cohort of local veterans, many of them from the Vietnam War era, undertook to form a unit to meet this need. The result was formation of the Simpson County Honor Guard (SCHG), which continues to the present accomplishing its mission: providing dignified and respectful military rites for our deceased brothers and sisters in arms.
Organizational efforts got underway in early 2000. The unit’s acknowledged creator, Norm Purvis, led the campaign, assisted by Bob May and others. At the beginning, decisions were made which have shaped the unit and its operations ever since. Among them were these: qualification to serve as members of the unit: criteria for entitlement to the unit’s services; the scope and type of services to be provided; and uniforming and equipping the unit. After some spirited debate, and overcoming old intra-service rivalries, key agreements were reached and these decisions were made:
Membership in the unit would be open to any veteran of the U. S. Armed Forces who has completed his or her military service honorably, regardless of race, gender, rank, or length or branch of service; the same criteria would govern veterans’ entitlement to the unit’s services; the unit’s services would be confined to Simpson County, with limited exceptions; and the unit’s uniforms would be modeled after those worn by the U. S. Army’s Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. WWII era M-1 Garand rifles were chosen for use by the unit. It was also agreed that the unit’s activities would largely be limited to funerals and memorial services.
After considerable effort, SCHG attained approval by the Defense Department to conduct military rites, and SCHG’s life began. Through weekly training sessions, veterans who had not touched a weapon nor practiced close order drill for decades were soon whipped into shape by M/Sgt. (Ret.) J. W. Randolph. The first service by the unit was rendered on March 22, 2000 at Greenlawn Cemetery in Franklin.
The unit began its operations using a set of M-1 rifles borrowed from VFW Post 5706. Soon thereafter the unit was able to secure a loan of rifles from the U.S. Army to American Legion Post 62, which took possession of the rifles and assumed responsibility for their security. In 2007 the unit purchased its own set of rifles, which it maintains and uses to this day.
The uniforms worn by SCHG members have remained essentially unchanged since 2000. Each member is issued a Class A coat, trousers, shirt, and cap, along with shoes, boots, and raincoat/overcoat. Upon leaving the unit, members are required to turn in their uniforms for utilization by incoming members. Uniforms are expensive, costing about $900.00 to fully equip a member with new items. In 2015, short sleeve shirts were added to provide a more comfortable summer uniform for the hot weather months.
In the early years members drove their personal vehicles to the unit’s services. In 2004 SCHG acquired a used 2001 Ford bus from the New York City Transit Authority. It was high mileage and in poor condition, and proved to be a financial burden, as well as a safety hazard. In 2018 the unit was able to acquire a slightly used 2019 Ford van in excellent condition. It is expected to meet the unit’s needs for many years to come.
To date, SCHG has provided military rites for more than 550 veterans. Typically, the service includes the firing of three volleys by a rifle team of not less than three nor more than seven members, the playing of Taps, and presentation of the U. S. flag to the family of the deceased veteran. A contingent of at least eleven members is required to provide a full service with seven rifles. If requested to do so the unit can provide a more limited service, usually consisting of the playing of Taps and presentation of the flag.
In its early years SCHG sometimes served as pallbearers, but our members’ advancing age has caused us to stop offering this service.
In March, 2020 the unit suspended services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Services were resumed effective July 1, with appropriate restrictions.
For most of its existence SCHG operated as an unincorporated association, with little formal structure. In 2018 the unit was incorporated as Simpson County Honor Guard, Inc under Kentucky’s not -for -profit corporation laws and was granted tax exempt status as a 501©(3) organization. The corporation’s affairs are governed by a board of directors which consists of its four officers plus one at large director, all of whom are elected annually.
From 2000 to the present, forty veterans have been members of SCHG. Past members no longer serving are: Cathy Hermann Bagwell, Bill Beach, Stacy Bishop, Fred Bomar, David Butt, Doug Cordova, Jack Delk, Steve Deasy, James Hollars, Brian Johnson, James Law, Ellis Link, Bernie Low, Steve Maloney, Bob May, John Moore, Robert Moore, Bill Overton, Norm Purvis, Jim Quisenberry, Roger Rich, Paul Thomas, and Roger York.
Present members are: Randy Barton, Jamie Blewett, David Brigance, Chris Buck, Charles Butler, Charles Dorris, Bill Forshee, Jim Goostree, Dickie Harper, Bill Harris, John Hermann, Don Hicks, Dan Kibler, John Maloney, J. W. Randolph, Jim Sowney, and Bill West. Of these, West, Sowney, and Randolph are original SCHG members.
SCHG does not charge for its services, and its members serve without compensation except for the satisfaction which flows from honoring a fallen comrade.
The unit’s primary expenses are fuel, insurance, and maintenance of the unit’s vehicle, purchasing blank ammunition, and keeping its members uniformed.
The Kentucky Department of Veterans affairs pays the unit a small stipend for each service performed, and grateful families sometimes make donations, which are neither required nor expected.
However, by far the bulk of the unit’s financial support has come from the various local veterans’ service organizations and generous individuals and businesses in our wonderful community.
The members of Simpson County Honor Guard consider it a privilege to have had an opportunity to serve our fellow veterans and their families during their hour of grief. We are grateful to a caring community for its enduring support for more than two decades. As we age and our numbers dwindle, we hope that younger veterans will step forward to carry on our work for many years to come.