NEW ULM - Through wind, snow and rain, the New Ulm Area Comrades of Valor have spent years tirelessly dedicating their time and efforts to providing the final military tribute for their fellow veterans.
Formed in 1981, Comrades of Valor's volunteer membership merged local American Legion and VFW honor guards. They perform all the functions of an honor guard at veterans' funerals and grave side services when requested. Their responsibilities consist of a trumpeter playing "Taps," an honorary rifle firing for the deceased and a presentation to the next of kin of a folded U.S. flag. Usually the ceremony takes place at the grave site; however, occasionally it occurs after the funeral service at the church.
Comrades of Valor serve the Brown County region, but they will travel to other areas if a family requests their services.
The New Ulm Area Comrades of Valor pictured front row from left: Jon Gohr, Bert Marth, Mel Stadick, Doc Ellanson, LB?Jones, Gordy Palmer, Ron Peterson, Willie Reiser, Bob Buessman and Norm Warta.
Back row: Fred Hosto, Rocky Lane, Brian Krosch, Rich Roesch, Don Borstad, Dick Mueller, Johns Schroeder, Jim Drexler, Wil Burdorf, Roy Janni, Frank Reiser and Ilo Hinze.
Not pictured are: Jerry Cordes, Al Christle, John Ingebritson, Ron Wendinger, Dick Preisinger, Tom Roesch, Jim Wieland, Roger Meyer, Les Witcheck and Stan Loyd.
The task can be very challenging for members. The organization has performed at 724 funerals since it was originally formed and often has several funerals in a week's time. The group, which is comprised solely of veterans, has an almost exclusively membership of retirees because working hours could interfere with funeral times.
The guard executes its duties regardless of weather conditions. Comrades of Valor members have stood through snowfalls and rain to be honor their fellow veterans. Additionally, the work can be emotionally demanding because, sometimes, the veteran being honored has been a friend.
Comrades of Valor member take immense pride in their work and sometimes adapt their duties to their capabilities. For example, a member who served for years on the rifle squad had a pacemaker implanted in his chest and could no longer fire a rifle. But, rather than slowing down, he shifted to serving on the flag-folding squad. Another example of the membership's dedication involves working through winter temperatures so low that traditional trumpets have difficulty sounding Taps." Rather than going without that tribute, the organization purchased an electronic trumpet so they could continue the tradition of "Taps."
"I feel the same as a lot of the guys," said Warta, "As long as I'm capable of running up and down stairs without much problem, I'll be there [with Comrades of Valor]."
Warta said he dedicates so much of his time to the Comrades of Valor because it is "payback time." He considers it the least he can do for his fellow veterans' service, in addition to sharing brotherhood with other veterans.
"I feel it's our duty," said Warta. "We get compliments for our work. But, we're always looking for ways to do it better."
Outside of the sense of duty, Warta said he is also part of Comrades of Valor for the companionship with other members. The shared responsibility forms a deep bond among the participants. This bond lightens the load of doing such somber work. He said the companionship even allows for some happy times.
Comrades of Valor always refuse per diem payments offered through the American Legion. However, they do take funding for transportation costs. The organization has primarily been supported by donations from the community.
Those interested in contributing to Comrades of Valor can contact the New Ulm American Legion.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed firstname.lastname@example.org)