N.Y. National Guard expects to conduct 11,170 military funeral services by end of 2017

Sgt. Nicklaus Hilts, presents a flag to a family member of Lawrence Ostwald during his burial at Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville, Dec 15, 2017.

By midnight on Dec. 31, New York’s Army and Air National Guard is expected to have conducted military funerals for 11,170 veterans during 2017.

Those honored ranged from 19-year old New York Army National Guard Specialist Joseph Nelk from Pittsford, who died from apparent natural causes on Dec. 10 and was buried on Dec. 23; to 87 year-old Lawrence Ostwald of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. who served in the Army during the Korean War died on Dec. 11 and was interned on Dec. 15.

This number is down from the 12,019 military funeral services the New York National Guard provided during 2016.

The decline in numbers of funerals appears to be because of the aging and passing of World War II veterans, according to Peter Moran, the New York Army National Guard State Military Funeral coordinator. Anecdotally it appears that the peak of World War II veteran deaths due to old age has passed and there are fewer of those veterans left, he explained.

As of Dec. 20 the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard had conducted 8,707 military funeral services. The teams expect to conduct another 330 by New Year’s Eve.

The New York Air National Guard’s Honor Guard teams had performed 2,097 military funeral services by Dec. 20 and anticipate conducting 45 more by the end of the year.

Since 2000, federal law has mandated that any military veteran who did not receive a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces is eligible for military honors at his or her funeral.

The ceremony must include the folding and presenting of the flag of the United States to the veteran’s survivors and the playing of Taps.

The Army Guard program has 32 Soldiers working full-time in the Honor Guard program and 107 part-time Soldiers who fill in when required.

The New York Air National Guard has 21 Airmen who conduct funeral honors full time and another 80 who can be called on when needed.

“I look at every fallen Airman as one of my own brothers. Our goal is to provide the best military honors possible,” said Staff Sgt. Dewayne, Morgan of Queens, N.Y. the non-commissioned officer in charge of the 106th Rescue Wing’s honors team.

Along with providing funeral honors for veterans, the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard also conducts dignified transfer ceremonies during which the remains of Soldiers who died overseas are brought home.

These can be for current Soldiers like Army Guard Spec. Joseph Nelk, from Pittsford, N.Y., or Sgt. Roshain Brooks, a member of the 82nd Airborne from Brooklyn, who was killed in Iraq in August, 2017. Or, the transfer ceremony can be for the remains of Soldiers from prior wars, like those of Lt. Robert Mains, a World War II pilot who died in 1945, and whose remains were returned to Long Island on November 30, 2017 and met by a New York Army National Guard Honor Guard.

Providing military honors at funerals is an important duty that requires tremendous attention to detail and training, said Staff Sgt. Tomas Couvertier, a Bronx, N.Y. resident and the non-commissioned officer in charge of the New York Army National Guard Honor Guard program.

Whether they do it full-time or part-time, all members of the Honor Guard go through a training program to teach them the precise movements required, Couvertier said.

“There is a great deal of pride in representing the military in these last events,” he said. “The families are always very appreciative. They always say thank you. Sometimes they want to hug you.”

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