To Honor with Dignity

  • Published
  • By Peter Borys
  • 914th ARW Public Affairs

April 5 is Gold Star Spouses Day, a day of honor recognizing spouses of active-duty military who “paid the ultimate sacrifice,” and were killed in combat.

Originally called Gold Star Wives Day when it was founded in 1945, the day of remembrance is known now as Gold Star Spouses Day, though some still use the names interchangeably.

The Gold Star is a symbol of loss dating back to World War I. In 1947, Congress approved the design, manufacture and distribution of the official Gold Star Lapel Button, a symbol worn by next of kin of service members in the U.S. armed forces who lost their lives in war and armed hostilities.

Recently lawmakers introduced the new Gold Star Families Day Act, which would make the last Monday in September — just about six weeks before Veterans Day — a federal holiday to recognize families who have lost a loved one while serving in the military.

Before the new holiday can become law, the legislation must be approved by both the House and Senate.

Here at Niagara, honoring the fallen who have served or given the ultimate sacrifice are a unique team of individuals from the 914th Air Refueling Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve and the 107th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard.

According to Master Sgt. Ryan Snyder, Niagara Falls Base Honor Guard Superintendent, most of the Gold Star/Spouse funeral details are handled by McGuire Air Force Base Honor Guard which is located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

“We support them, typically with a color team, because an Active-Duty funeral detail can have upwards of 20 Ceremonial Guardsman participating,” said Snyder. “We currently have 5 full-time members and almost 40 part-time members. Our team is comprised of both Guard and Reserve individuals, and we’re always looking for more members,” stressed Snyder.

When asked what the difference would be in honors between battle related versus veteran or retiree funeral Snyder explained, “If a member passed due to any battle-related incident, they would be entitled to full military honors since they would be on orders. This would include casket carry, a color team, three-volley salute, playing of Taps and folding and presentation of the flag to the next of kin.”

He added, “a veteran who has honorably served will receive a two-member team. This will include the playing of Taps and the folding and presentation of the flag to the next of kin. For a retiree, up to seven members can be assigned to render military honors. It provides a rifle salute in addition to the playing of Taps and the folding and presentation of the flag to the next of kin.”

The 21-gun salute is actually a common misnomer. It is used for honoring fallen presidents and for ceremonies for chiefs of foreign nations and on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Presidents Day. This salute is fired from 21 artillery cannons, and is typically performed by the Army.

“The Honor Guard renders a three-volley salute for fallen warriors (retiree or active-duty). This team of three to seven Airmen wielding M-14 rifles is called a Firing Party. This will generate between nine to 21 reports depending on the number of Airmen involved,” said Snyder.

Funerals by nature can be a very emotional event, for all involved, but according to Snyder, “We try to remain professional at all times, regardless of the type of ceremony. Each of us have our own ways of coping (with emotions) and putting up the mental curtain to block out what we do every day,” he said.

Last year, the 914th/107th Honor Guard performed 489 military funeral honors. They cover a 21- county area of responsibility, which includes all of western and some of central New York and northern Pennsylvania.