WAKULLA — As U.S. Merchant Marine veteran Paul Painter was laid to rest Tuesday at Hillside Memorial Cemetery in Laurinburg, the Robeson County Honor Guard was thanked for the time they devoted to honoring the fallen hero.
“Every veteran signs a blank check to the United States government for their life,” said Dwayne Hunt, the guard’s commanding officer. “That’s why it’s important to honor each veteran and give them the proper honor and respect they deserve.”
Painter became the latest of hundreds of military men and women honored for their service by the local volunteer honor guard during the past 25 years. The Robeson County Honor Guard is a group of about 30 veterans, representing all branches of the military, who volunteer their time to show respect and honor to fallen veterans from Robeson, Scotland and Hoke counties who fought for their country.
“We try to concentrate in the Robeson County area,” said Stanley Scott, one of the founding members.
This year alone, the guard has participated in nearly 50 funerals.
To qualify for military honors, the deceased must be an honorably discharged member of the United States Armed Forces. The guard provides its own bugler, firing detail and flag folders at no charge to the family or the funeral home.
Painter received full military rites, which included a three-volley rifle salute, the playing of “Taps,” and a flag ceremony in which the United States flag is folded 13 times into a triangular shape.
The veterans who provide these services include local business owners, clergymen and construction workers. They’ve served in every war since World War II and have hundreds of years of combined military service. Each member volunteers his time and pays his own expenses.
“They pay for their own gas to get here (to funerals),” Hunt said.
“If the families didn’t help, they wouldn’t be able to do this,” Scott said.
Hunt served in the U.S. Army for 24 years and became a member of the Robeson County Honor Guard 12 years ago after returning from service in the Iraq War. He found out about the guard at a funeral, which is how many members do.
“I felt obligated to join and participate, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Hunt said.
Hunt was appointed commander in June 2017.
The honor guard was founded in the fall of 1993 in honor of Anthony T. Chavis, who died early in life of cancer. Before his death he expressed his wishes to have full military honors at his funeral. The guard was then formed in order to provide those honors to Chavis. The guard was officially chartered by the state in 1995 and is headquartered at Cherokee Chapel Holiness Church in the Wakulla community.
Many founding members are still a part of or assists the honor guard. They include Stanley Scott, Brantley Locklear, Milton Locklear, Joe Glenn Locklear, Barbara Colput, Jimmy Chavis and Orlean Chavis, the widow of Anthony Chavis.
“That’s where it all began, and we want to continue that legacy,” Hunt said.
Painter was able to receive full military honors. But some deceased veterans don’t because of a lack volunteers.
“Sometime we have two funerals going on at once and we aren’t able to provide the full honors for both funerals,” Hunt said.
With the help of more veterans, the honor guard would be able to provide the full military rites each veteran deserves, Hunt said.
Non-veterans are welcomed to volunteer their time at fundraising events. Money raised helps pay for uniforms and firearms, for the maintenance of those uniforms and firearms, and for other equipment and supplies needed.
“This is the last rite and the last respect we can provide for that veteran,” Hunt said. “… It’s about veterans assisting veterans. Freedom isn’t free.”
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at 910-416-5865 or [email protected]