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Columnist/Reporter

John is a columnist and reporter for Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

ROCK ISLAND

They stand, crisp, clean, eyes forward, never flinching; shirts white and pressed; American Legion ties neat and straight; ceremonial braids positioned atop their shoulders.

On command, a three-volley salute sounds, ripping through the spring breeze and the rustling trees. Funeral-goers flinch.

Taps, firm, powerful and elegant, rings out. The bugler is crisp and perfect in her play.

A moment later, the American flag, draped honorably across the fallen's casket, is folded and presented with a message of honor and gratitude to the fallen's next of kin.

Only the wind's rustle can be heard.

It is the right of all who served their country honorably that full military honors be accorded at their final resting spot. The Honor Guard from Moline's American Legion Post 246 has been a constant for decades when it comes to carrying out military honors for a fallen veteran, sometimes as often as 250 times a year.

"It simply must be done, and there must be someone to carry on and make this happen,'' said 92-year-old Jim Joseph, leader of Post 246's Honor Guard. Joseph, an articulate and humble man, has honorably worked more than 5,000 funerals of veterans.

"They deserve a place to be laid to rest and with full military honors,'' he added. "It's our job to do it.''

According to Joseph, who served in the the U.S. Navy in World War II, a Moline-based Honor Guard has been around since the 1920s. He has been part of the Post 246 Honor Guard for 26 years.

"The group is getting older,'' said Honor Guard member John Marsho. "But we see the need to make sure that person who served — whether we know them or not — is honored. You cannot pick and choose; that's not how it works. It's a matter of pride for us to be involved, and it's a matter of respect for those like us who served.''

The Post 246 Honor Guard has 18 active members, and its sends a rotating crew — with bugler — to the funerals it serves. On Memorial Day, the Honor Guard will assist with the military honors at National Cemetery at Arsenal Island, and then with a 1 p.m. service at Moline VFW Post 2153.

"Just a great bunch of guys to be with,'' said Coast Guard veteran Andy Jones. "And Tracy (Hepner), she is great as the bugler. We treat each funeral as if it was our own and how we want to be treated when that time comes. It's about showing respect.''

Hepner, an amazing bugler with flawless timing and pitch, has served with the 246 Honor Guard since 2012. 

"It's an honor each time I play,'' said Hepner after flawlessly bringing taps to life at a recent funeral at National Cemetery. "Plus, I'm surrounded by some of the more dedicated men you will ever come across. They have never stopped serving. This means something to all of us each time we do it. They also know what this ceremony means to the family of the veteran being honored. ''

One of the first things you notice about the 246 Honor Guard is its humility. Joseph says serving is an honor. Those who serve with him, in addition to Marsho, Jones and Hepner, include his son, Bob Joseph, and Jack Smith, Tom Marckese, Jack Achs, Harry Bedney, Dale Bramm, Steve Hamm, Nick Huyten, Charlie Johnson, Howard Koch, Bob Payne, John Pancrazio, Harry Scarff and Whitey Schomer, 

"I love the fact that people find time in their day to carry out such a wonderful tradition,'' Joseph says. "It's an honorable service for those who served honorably. It is a personal point of pride for me and I'm sure everyone else.''

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.

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