DAYTON – The Honor Squad at the Dayton National Cemetery is in dire need of help.
Since the Dayton National Honor Squad was formed nearly two years ago, the dwindling group of less than 25 volunteers has conducted more than 2,000 funerals — insuring veterans of all branches of military are properly memorialized at burial — spending countless hours of volunteer work as their efforts to keep up become more challenging each week.
“We started on Memorial Day two years ago and we average 1,200 funerals a year,” said Jim Groves, squad commander. “We are currently on daily teams right now; there are 25 of us and we are out there five days a week. Doesn’t matter what the weather is — rain or shine, 20-below and snowing, scorching heat — we are there and we do all services: Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, we honor them all.”
Up until the group’s inception in 2015, only about 10 percent of the services at the cemetery included the full military honors that the group now performs each day.
Groves and others only hope to ensure that this continues.
“We have been struggling for two years and we have not missed a service yet,” he said. “As much as I hate to say it, we have done a service with two guys. We don’t like to do it with two. The absolute least should be five, with three shooters, the adjutant and the commander.”
Although he never retired from the US Air Force, Groves was in the Army Reserve from 1969 to 1975, during the Vietnam War.
In addition to this, properly honoring those who served this country means a great deal to him on a variety of levels, and for good reason.
“I first heard of the squad from members of the VFW Post in Beavercreek, and thought it would be a great way to honor my father, father-in-law, uncles, aunts, nine guys that I went to high school with that were killed in Vietnam, as well as my son, who was killed in Afghanistan on March 16, 2013,” Groves explained. “ To say this is an important cause to me is an understatement.”
Groves’ son, James E. Groves III, was a Chief Warrant Officer in the US Army when he laid down his life for his country.
“He went in out of high school and served until March 16, 2013,” Groves said. “I have moments, especially coming up on his anniversary, it’s tough … I can’t change it. He was doing what he loved.
“When he went over there the first time, I asked him ‘why don’t the people over there step up to the plate?’ He told me those people don’t understand what freedom is. He felt they were doing the right thing over there, and that’s why I am here. I believe him. Ever since he went over there, I believed him more than any politician.”
Now retired, Groves said he offers more time volunteering for the cause than he did when he was last working.
“I have a very supportive wife,” he said. “There are weeks I’m out there six days.”
The squad was formed by the vision of three people in 2015: The cemetery director at the time, Michael Henshaw (US Army), along with a cemetery representative, Stephanie M. Boley ( US Air Force), and Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Dennis Adkins.
Although Adkins was not in the military, he has a passion for veterans.
“There is no greater honor we can do for veterans who serve their country, that when they are buried they are honored,” he said. “That’s the least we can do for them, and for their family and friends.”
Adkins said the process of getting the honor squad formed and operating began in January 2015, when he found out veterans from World War II were being buried without anyone present to take the flag, and that at least 900 services a year were being conducted at this local national cemetery without full honors.
“I thought, this is disgusting,” he said. “When you’re buried in a national cemetery, it just goes hand in hand that this should happen.”
As a result, he ushered in the formation of the Final Salute Society, in addition to the formation of the Dayton National Cemetery Support Committee, which is the funding arm for the Honor Squad, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
Getting this far, he explained, required researching protocol, recruiting, training, obtaining proper gear and fundraising from private donations because Federal funding is off limits.
Although more than 58,000 service men and women are buried at the Dayton National Cemetery, members of the Dayton National Honor Squad say there’s about 175 acres there in all. Barring any major wars or unexpected influx of burials, they have room to keep going there another half a century or more at the going rate.
In an ideal world, supporters believe, services would continue at the cemetery until that time.
To serve in the Honor Squad at the Dayton National Cemetery, a volunteer need little more than time and a willingness to help out.
“We take veterans and civilians, men and women,” Groves said. “An ideal volunteer is a person who steps up and says ‘you know what I served, or my dad did, or my grandfather, or uncle served … I want to help out.’”
Pretty much everything else is provided, he said.
“We have several people who are civilians who never served and they have family who did and feel like this is a way to step up and honor those who stepped up and did a service for their country,” Groves said. “A volunteer needs black shoes or black boots. We have the coats, the gloves, everything else.”
Ideally, the person would be able to help at least one day a week, Groves said.
“We will take all the help we can get,” he said. “We’ve tried a lot of different things to try to increase our ranks, but we are still struggling … All we ask is that you show up when you say you’re going to show up, and if you can’t, you get it covered (by a fellow volunteer).”
For more information call Jim Goves at home at 937-293-0911 or on his cell 937-620-3641, or via email at [email protected]
Brian Evans is a freelance writer. Email him at [email protected]