Honor guard helps veterans receive proper military rites

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Veterans often receive thanks and gratitude throughout day-to-day life for their service to this country, but a dedicated group of veterans in Taos has joined the national effort to ensure those honors continue even after death.

After returning from a tour in Iraq in 2005, Jeff Padilla sought to continue his service to his country by honoring his fellow veterans through the honor guard at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3259 Fernandez de Taos. Together with his honor guard team, Padilla delivers military honors for deceased veterans around Taos County by attending funerals and performing military rites ceremonies for the fallen soldiers.

"We do it because there is nobody else who will do it," Padilla said. "We're proud enough to do it because sometime it might be one of us, and we'll be there to give honors for them, too."

As part of the services, veterans are honored by a special acknowledgment of their service, the playing of taps and a 21-gun salute if requested. The honor guard then folds and presents an American flag to the family of the veteran and salutes them for their relative's service. Separate honors are given to members of the U.S. Navy, which include a boatswain's call, or a whistle of honor representing time served on ship. Precision, care and dedication are important when performing the services, and members of the honor guard said they take their work extremely seriously.

While there was a VFW post in Taos performing the services in the past, Padilla took over as the honor guard coordinator nine years ago and has been performing the services for veterans across several communities. The group's members do all work on a volunteer basis and said they are honored and more than happy to give honors to their military brothers and sisters.

"It's one of the greatest honors a veteran could receive," said honor guard member Lawrence Vargas Sr. after a presentation by the honor guard Friday (May 5) in Taos.

For a person to receive military honors along with their funeral services, they must have been a veteran discharged honorably from the military out of any branch. Services are free and must be requested by the family prior to the funeral services through the funeral home or directly through the local VFW post. With at least two days' notice, the group will travel around Taos County to give their veterans the last rites they deserve for their time in the military.

Once a request is made, Padilla obtains the veteran's DD-214 discharge form and, if there is an honorable discharge indicated, begins making calls to his colleagues for the services. Padilla said his colleagues are more than happy to participate and will show up with little question or hesitation. Honor guard members go through strict training on how to perform every aspect of the service and how to handle a flag in the event of a funeral. Members of the VFW Post 3259 recently received state recognition and certification for their service in the honor guard.

"I do this because I was proud to be in the military," said honor guard member John Padilla. "Since I'm not in the military anymore, this is the most I can do for my brothers and sister who have served."

Honor guard operates on a volunteer basis and is given a small stipend from the state for training and materials. Interested veterans can join via the VFW post and anyone wanting to continue their service is encouraged to call Padilla at (575) 779-7850 for more information.

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