MERIDEN — The Meriden Antique Veterans Honor Guard had to shut down for more than two months at the start of the pandemic, but has resumed participating in funerals and other ceremonies.
“We’re a group who enjoy each other’s company and love to tell our war stories,” said Ray Bednarz, junior commander.
The Meriden Antique Veterans Honor Guard is made up of honorably discharged veterans from different wars. The group meets every Thursday at American Legion Post 45. It does flag ceremonies, speeches at schools and military funerals in the Meriden area.
“Our big thing is military funerals,” said Ed Lynch, unit commander. “We’ve done around 1,700 (since 9/11) and the guys are all voluntary. We don’t get any money from the state, the city, the government.”
Because of the pandemic, the honor guard has not participated in as many funerals as usual this year. The group has done around 30 so far, but in past years would have participated in close to 100 funerals by this point.
“We stopped doing funerals and everything for a long time because of the social distancing,” Lynch said. … We had a funeral (Sept. 21) and I had 14 guys show up...usually we get nine to 10.”
Bednarz said the group wears masks and exercises social distancing, but keeps the ceremonies as normal as possible.
“We form an appropriate flagline with an honor guard for the American flag,” Bednarz said. “We have two flag holders for the casket flag … We have a three member firearm squad and one or two buglers who play ‘Taps’ with an echo background.”
One thing that has changed is the presentation of the flag to families.
“...instead of presenting the flag, sometimes they hold it up in the air and give the speech and then lay it on the coffin,” Lynch said.
The Meriden Antique Veterans Honor Guard’s membership ranges from 62 to 101, with some World War II veterans.
“(Older members) aren’t doing the funerals very often with us unless it’s somebody they know, but they still come to the meetings and things like that,” Lynch said.
The group is actively seeking new members. Any veteran that has been honorably discharged is welcome.
“We accept all members no matter what,” Bednarz said.