MANISTIQUE – On a sunny afternoon in May, a group of veterans stood in a row to pay respect to one of their own. This isn’t the first time this group has gathered for this purpose, and, according to one of its coordinator, it’s far from the last.
The Schoolcraft County All Veterans Association has been performing Veteran’s Burial Rituals since World War II. According to coordinator Noel Hastings, the tradition began as the bodies of those who fell during wartime returned home.
“All the bodies were coming back from World War II … at the old train station,” he explained. “I think the women were probably doing it then.”
Soon, veterans from the area took over performing the ritual for each deceased veteran, whether it was during wartime or not. Currently, approximately 20 members of the All Vets organization volunteer to participate in the rituals, with around seven attending each one.
Hastings, who has been participating in the rituals for around 11 years, performs most of the speaking role of each ritual he attends. The rituals are held at graveyards and the local funeral home.
“The funeral home coordinates it with the family, and they call myself or one of the other coordinators,” Hastings explained.
While the ritual is mostly military in nature, a chaplain is also on hand. Hastings will make a speech, followed by readings from the junior and senior vice commander and the officer of the day.
The organization doesn’t accept any donations for the rituals, but did recently purchase, with the help of a local credit union, a bugle to perform graveside services.
“We have taps – which is very hard on the people, usually,” he said.
The All Vets is composed of members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and
Disabled American Veterans groups.
“Family members, sometimes … who are in the military or are veterans, they’ll actually go with us, too when we do our rituals,” Hastings said.
The rituals are done, not only to honor the veteran, but to offer condolences to the family and to provide support during the difficult time.
“A lot of them don’t really have money to do a funeral, even, so when we do our services, it kind of takes the place of that,” he said. “It’s nice for a lot of them.”