ALTON - Recently, Purple Heart recipient Dave Eckhouse and other VFW Post 1308 Ritual Team Honor Guard members were asked to perform their typical military rites for a fellow veteran, this time a Korean War Bronze Star recipient.

Because the Ritual Team is low on numbers, many with health issues, the group did not have anyone available to perform the Bronze Star recipient's funeral ceremony. Eckhouse said if anyone was deserving of having an honor guard present, it was the Bronze Star recipient for his military valor.

Eckhouse was extremely sad this happened and hoped that by reaching out to the public, the Ritual Team might be able to attract some veterans who would want to join the group. Eckhouse said the family of the Bronze Star recipient was forced to contact some active-duty military members to see if they could do the funeral ritual.

"It is heartbreaking when you can't do these," he said. "A few times we have done two funerals in a day, but it is difficult. It is an honor as much for us as it is for the family to do these ceremonies. It is something special a family always remembers. We need more people on the Ritual Team to keep up with the requests. We are trying to get it all organized and get more people."

The honor guard detail includes at a minimum performing a ceremony that includes the folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin and the playing of taps. When available, the VFW Ritual Team uses a bugler, but if not an electronic recording of taps. The honor guard also can perform a 21-Gun Salute at military funerals.

The Alton Post VFW 1308 Ritual Team is always a participant in parades from Memorial Day, Halloween, and Veterans Day. The Ritual Team always adds a welcomed patriotic spirit to parades.

Eckhouse not only served in Vietnam in 1967-1968, but he also lived a life of public service once he returned to America as an Alton firefighter. Eckhouse was an Alton firefighter for 29 years before retirement.

Recently, the VFW Ritual Team had five funerals to work in a week, which Eckhouse said is very difficult. Many of the Ritual Team members are up in age and also the COVID-19 Pandemic has opened a new series of challenges, he said. Often, some of the members have doctor's appointments they must keep as many are in upper age with the VFW Post. One of the Ritual Team members is a bugler, but he presently has a wrist injury and can't perform with the group.

Eckhouse said the VFW Post is always looking for members and encouraged any veterans who wanted to join the group to do so. He said eventually his group will have to turn over the post activities to a younger generation and he hopes they will come forward at this stage to help. However, at the moment for Eckhouse, the aging Ritual Team is one of his biggest concerns and he issued a plea for anyone interested to contact him.

He said anyone who is interested in the team can text or contact Dave at 618-977-1073. For Dave Eckhouse and the other Ritual Team members, added assistance from veterans both with the VFW Post and the honor guard would be greatly appreciated.

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