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Jeannette honor guard offers service to fellow veterans

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Margie Stanislaw | The Jeannette Spirit
Sonny Blasco is the chairman of the Jeannette Combined Veterans.
Margie Stanislaw | The Jeannette Spirit
Members of the Jeannette Combined Veterans include, in front, from left, Herb Michaels, Sonny Blasco and Jim Brecht. In back, from left, are Emory Elliott, Bill Errett, Curt Elliott, Leonard (Red) Lander and Jerry Soles.

The Jeannette Combined Veterans Honor Guard provides ceremonies and duties that show respect and honor to United States veterans.

On June 23, 2008, the Jeannette VFW Post 8240 and Jeannette American Legion Post 344 combined their Honor Guards in an effort to make sure they had a large enough contingent, at all times, to serve the local community in providing military honors to deceased veterans.

The Combined Veterans is most visual to local community members leading off the many parades that City of Jeannette residents enjoy. At most parades, including the Community Days parade, and the Christmas parade, residents watch the local Combined Veterans leading off the festivities by honoring local veterans, and carrying the United States flag.

What many families may not know, is that the Combined Veterans also provides military funeral honors for any honorably discharged veteran, regardless of whether or not they belonged to either post. However, this service must be requested by the family when making funeral arrangements.

As this can be a difficult time, family members often overlook making the request.

When requested, the Combined Veterans will do a visitation at the funeral home the night before the funeral, do a gun salute and play taps at the grave side.

Accompanying the Combined Veterans members will be two active-duty servicemen, from the branch in which the deceased served. These servicemen will perform the folding of the flag and make the flag presentation to the family.

“Every veteran deserves one,” World War II veteran and Jeannette resident Herb Michaels said. “It is an honor and privilege and you get to see the satisfaction on the families' faces.”

Chaplain Jim Brecht echoed Michaels and said, “It's my honor and privilege.”

The Combined Veterans has also been certified and trained to provide military honors at funerals for veterans.

The Combined Veterans provides Memorial Day services every year at city hall and various local cemeteries. The services start at 9 a.m. at city hall then move to Sacred Heart Cemetery, Grandview, the Greek Orthodox Cemetery, a lone Revolutionary soldier's grave between Margaret and First Street and finish at Jeannette Memorial Park at 11 a.m.

At each cemetery, there is a gun salute and the lowering of the flag to half staff. At Jeannette Memorial Park, there is a longer service with the Ladies Auxiliary represented and usually some speeches by local political leaders.

Another duty the Combined Veterans carry out is decorating the graves of all veterans at the various cemeteries with markers denoting the deceased veteran's service branch and flags. This task takes place the week before Memorial Day.

The veterans are often assisted by the Boy Scouts and the Sons of the Legion. If family members find that their loved ones grave is not decorated, they should contact Combined Veterans Chairman Sonny Blasco at 412-780-7050. If leaving a message, make sure to say the name of the cemetery.

The Combined Veterans was originally outfitted through a donation from former state Sen. Bob Regola, while Congressman John Murtha provided the rifles. The Combined Veterans is in need of raincoats for inclement weather.

Officers of the Jeannette Combined Veterans Honor Guard are Sonny Blasco, chairman, Merle Baker, vice chairman, Herb Michaels, secretary, Curt Elliott, treasurer, Jim Brecht, chaplain, and Emory Elliott, equipment manager.

The group is always looking for new members. Membership is open to any honorably discharged veteran. The Combined Veterans meet the last Monday of the month, alternating between the VFW and the American Legion.

The address of the Jeannette Combined Veterans is 111 S. Fourth St. in Jeannette. Blasco can be reached at 412-780-7050. Families that wish to request a military funeral must do so through the funeral director, who will then make contact with the group.

Margie Stanislaw is a freelance writer.