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Time and again, color guard performs tributes

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Flying the flag is nothing new to these guys.

Long before Sept. 11, the Clarksburg Color Guard was posting the red, white and blue colors at military funerals and special events.

Veterans deserve respect but sometimes don't get it until they're laid to rest, members say. This dedicated group believes its job is to provide one final tribute.

"People wouldn't have freedom, if it weren't for the military," said Capt. Ike Bosley. "There's a saying that veterans probably go to Heaven because they've already been to Hell. For that, they deserve to have a proper burial."

Ike and the boys

Between them, they've seen combat in Vietnam, Korea, World War II and the Persian Gulf. The 25-member Clarksburg Color Guard is a close-knit bunch, with a humorous side.

Bosley is the leader of the pack. He's been serving on the Color Guard for 16 years, the longest of any member. Although most of them are well past the age of 70, they still refer to their group as "the boys."

So far this year, they've done more than 100 funerals and numerous parades and events. They don't get paid for their efforts and usually work three to five days a week. One week, the group did nine funerals.

"We've had snow up to our knees, rain pouring down on us and freezing, but the military teaches you to take it," Bosley said. "Regardless of the weather, we come."

Considering three of the members are in their 80s, showing up in harsh weather conditions is a testament itself to their commitment.

"I'll keep doing this, until I can't walk anymore. It's an honor," said 82-year-old Sgt. Earl Lake, who recently received a Purple Heart, 57 years after being wounded in France in World War II.

At 26, Sgt. First Class Chris Prosser is the youngest member of the bunch. He is affectionately called "the kid" by many of the guys. He is on active duty and leaves for Germany next month.

"I love hearing their stories. They've got a million of 'em," he said. "Most are combat veterans, and the stories make you just sit back in silence."

The guys usually ride together to an event in their 12-passenger van with red seats, given to them by the Veterans of Foreign War Post 573. Sgt. Tom Webb, 54, is the driver. Riding a few miles in their company, you can't help but appreciate their good-natured banter.

Answering the question of how he got the job of driver, Webb joked, "I'm the only one with a drivers license!"

"And he can't see half the time," shot back Lt. John Demastus, 71.

"The toughest part of the gig is putting up with the crew," Webb retorted.

The ceremony

Seriousness quickly returns when it comes time to do their part at a funeral. They fall into line and on command, fire their rifles. The folding of the flag and the heart-wrenching melancholy playing of Taps concludes their part.

"You can hear Taps a million times, and it still sends chills down your spine," Prosser said.

Sgt. Frank Anania, 74, agreed and offered an explanation of the music.

"It dates back to the Civil War, and it means rest for the person being buried," he said. "We're paying respect to somebody who went ahead of us and all the others before this one."

The families appreciate the ceremony, Demastus said.

"When we go out and line up and fire our rifles and play Taps, you see a lot of people crying," he said. "Sometimes, after the funeral they come up and thank you."

The group is made up of members of VFW Post 573 and American Legion Post 13. They are currently looking for some new participants.

"We need some young guys, if we can get them," Demastus said. "We're old and beat up!"

Military personnel interested in serving on the Clarksburg Color Guard can contact Bosley at 622-3591.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or by e-mail at jbiller@exponent-telegram.com

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