The squad doesn’t have a website. Since they began in 2000, news of their work has spread via word of mouth. Funeral directors often recommend them to grieving families.
Bill McReavy, whose family owns Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapels, said the Anoka squad is always dignified but can also provide some unintended levity on occasion, particularly if one of the aging rifles misfires.
Regardless, it is always educational, he said.
“It may be that some of the older-looking uniforms and more-historic rifles are not the way that other honor guards are seen today, being very modern, with neat-as-a-pin-type uniforms,” he said. “It’s maybe a little more authentic. Their hearts are in the right place.”
The honor squad gathered recently on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis for World War II veteran James Whitmore. A Civil War re-enactment group in Union regalia was honoring the new gravestone of a Civil War veteran about a hundred yards away.
Whitmore’s funeral entourage gathered around the silver casket and Clark respectfully launched into his lecture.
“The flag is always folded into a triangle in honor of our first veterans, our Revolutionary War soldiers,” he told them, holding up the folded flag. “Many of them wore a three-cornered hat, and thus the triangle.”
James Whitmore’s daughter, Lemetric Clardy, and her husband, Lawrence, himself a Vietnam-era vet, said the family had wanted military recognition for their loved one but thought it could only be done at a veterans cemetery.
The funeral home said it could be arranged and contacted the Anoka squad. Afterward, family members said they appreciated the personal approach.
“I’m a veteran and I didn’t know a lot of those things,” Lawrence said. “That really meant a lot to a lot of the family members.”
Looking back, paying forward
Many in the Anoka honor guard use their personal experiences as Vietnam veterans to motivate them. There was not a lot of “thank you for your service” when they got home.
After a series of childhood illnesses, it took three tries for squad member Sam Hermanstorfer to join the Army and make his way to Vietnam. When he came home to Minneapolis after three years, he ran out of cab fare halfway from the airport to his parent’s house.
The cabdriver told him to get out.
It was February in Minnesota and Hermanstorfer was wearing his summer uniform. He joined the squad to make sure all veterans get the honors he believes they are due.
“It helps me to be able to give back to my fellow vets,” said Hermanstorfer, now 66.
“We do it our way, but we do it the same way wherever we’re at.”
Over the years, the honor squad has buried a handful of its own. Clark, the squad’s founder, hopes the legacy can be carried on by younger veterans. As they get older, the squad’s own mortality is never far from their minds.