VETS members always ready to fulfill their duty

Cranberry Area High School teacher Barry Louise, left, received a certificate of appreciation from VETS Honor Guard members John Flick, center, and Chuck Benedict during the organization's annual spring banquet. Louise worked last year to have Marvin Miller, a Vietnam veteran who left Cranberry in 1967 for overseas duty before commencement exercises, participate in onstage graduation ceremonies in June 2018. Miller is a member of the VETS Honor Guard. (Submitted photo)

Fifteen years after its founding and hundreds of funerals and memorials later, the Venango Entombment Testimonial Service (VETS) Honor Guard in Venango County could use a little help.

“We’ve got 75 total members but our active list is down to 40 so we need people,” said John Flick, commander of the all-volunteer Honor Guard. “We’re right at the minimum because it takes 17 to serve as bugler, chaplain, rifle detail, flag detail and more. It’s daytime and weekends and it’s hard to fill those spots.”

Flick presided over the Honor Guard’s 15th annual dinner on Saturday at the VFW in Franklin.

Organized in May 2004 to provide military honors for veterans’ funerals, the nonprofit, stand-alone VETS Honor Guard has provided memorial services for hundreds of local veterans.

In 2018, the group tended to 134 funerals in following its creed of “To Honor with Dignity.”

How it started

The honor detail got its momentum underway in the fall of 1998, when Kathy Berry Scherlek, then director of the Venango County Veterans Affairs office and a retired command sergeant major in the Army, insisted she wanted “to find a way” to offer more than a flag and bugler at a veteran’s funeral or interment.

Vowing to “make the pitch for better cooperation” among local veterans’ organizations, Scherleck and like-minded veterans founded the Venango County Veterans Coalition in 2002. Two main issues were identified – the establishment of a county-based VA clinic and an honor guard to serve at veterans’ funerals.

Both came to fruition over the next few years. The VETS Honor Guard was established in 2004 and the outpatient VA Clinic was set up in 2005 in the former Oil City Hospital and later moved to the Pennwood Center clinic on the Oil City-Franklin Road. While the coalition has since gone out of business, its two projects remain active and busy.

A tribute scheduled at the VETS Honor Guard’s banquet was postponed due to an illness and recuperation. Lewis C. Griffin, of the Hannaville area, was to be presented a plaque in recognition of his distinction as being the oldest member of the Honor Guard as well as a World War II veteran.

Griffin served as an ambulance driver and medic with the 565th Motor Ambulance Co., U.S. Army, in campaigns at Normandy, northern France; Rhineland; Ardennes; and central Europe. His citations include the Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the European, African, Middle Eastern campaign medals with five stars.

The engraved plaque will be presented to Griffin, who also served as VETS Honor Guard chaplain, at a later date.

Open to new members

As veterans age, so do Honor Guard members, and that has made it difficult to adequately provide memorial services. Timing, too, has confounded the process because of daytime and weekday obligations of work and family.

“Our membership is open to all honorably discharged veterans, men and women who have completed basic training, and those now on active duty,” said Flick. “It is not limited, by any means, to those who served in combat.”

Additional information is available by contacting Flick, the commander, at 814-493-5147, or other VETS Honor Guard board officers. They are: Ray Santiago, chairman; Richard Deeter, vice chairman; Andy Sentgeorge, adjutant and corresponding secretary; and Chuck Benedict, treasurer.

Services provided by the contingent range from full funerals to taps, parades, gun salutes, posting of the colors, veteran tribute programs and military escorts. Some training, including rifle-handling for the volleys and proper U.S. flag-folding and presentation, is required.

Honor Guard members wear crisp and formal black-and-white uniforms that include all apparel from boots to hats. Contributions from families, funeral homes, various organizations, individuals and others provide financial support for the uniform and gear.

The honor guard has offices and storage area in the Franklin VFW Post.