V.E.T.S. Honor Guard to mark 20 years with ‘special’ banquet

In 2003, there were 18 local military veterans who wanted to make a difference in their community. Twenty later, the Veterans Entombment and Testimonial Service (V.E.T.S.) Honor Guard continues with that mission.

To date, the group has provided more than 1,685 service members with military funeral honors.

It has been a large commitment over the years, but Honor Guard Commander John Flick said, “We are just proud to be able to provide this for our country’s servicemen and women.”

Every year, the V.E.T.S. Honor Guard holds a banquet around its anniversary, both for members and for those members of the community who have donated to the cause. This year, the banquet will be held Saturday at the Elks Lodge in Franklin.

“One of our biggest moments was being presented our Folded Flag Pins from the Department of Defense by Col. Grey Barrier in March 2007,” Flick said.

Richard Deeter, the group’s former commander who continues to serve as a member, said, “We wear them on our uniforms, and receiving one marks you as a full member. Receiving the appreciation of the families has and will always be important.”

Deeter said parades are a treat and the group has fun participating in them, “but we take it seriously.”

The original 18 members of the V.E.T.S. Honor Guard received much support from the community. For example, in late 2004, the group acquired uniforms, obtained with the help of Mike Gardinier, a member of The Venango County Funeral Directors Association.

“The support that we have had from the community… well, you just can’t believe how much they’ve done,” Flick said.

As a nonprofit, the V.E.T.S. Honor Guard relies on occasional grants and donations, with most of the latter coming from the community and local businesses, to provide for its costs.

One of the largest expenses and difficulties faced by the group early on was transportation. It had a van for many years that that was used for most traveling, but it was hard to get in and out of and inconvenient for hauling equipment.

“We were made aware of a grant through the state in 2015 and we applied, hoping to get a shuttle bus that we could have customized and outfitted,” Flick said.

After receiving the grant, the V.E.T.S. Honor Guard reached out to the Edward V. and Jessie L. Peters Charitable Trust, which covered the remaining costs.

“The day that the bus was to be delivered, we had just finished a service,” Flick said. “We all got back, and the majority of us stayed to wait and see it. The difference it has made in our work is incredible.”

He said the annual banquet is normally held at the VFW, “but for this one we are inviting more people and wanted a bigger space. We were looking at several spaces but eventually decided on holding it at the Elks this year. They are letting us use the space free of charge, for which we are extremely grateful.”

The reason behind this year’s event being bigger, Flick said, was “we felt we should invite all of the key figures from our 20 years. Usually we just invite those who contributed within the year, but this year is special.”

At the banquet, there will be a table to remember the 21 members who have passed away over the years, and Col. Barrier, will be at the celebration as a guest.

“With the new members, we have 46 total, 34 of which are able to perform when available,” he said. “Last year, we had to have some of our members hold multiple flags during parades, as we simply didn’t have the numbers we needed. With new members, we can more comfortably perform our duties.”

With 20 years of service to be celebrated on Saturday, Flick is hopeful of many more years to come.

“You can see in every one of our performances that we are proud of what we do,” he said. “I just feel so blessed to be a part of this unit.”