DIXON — Almost every morning, Navy veteran Andy Derflinger stops by the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery offices to collect the list of memorial services that need an honor guard.
He and a half-dozen local veterans then gather just off a turn in one of the roads in the cemetery to prepare the rifles that will fire that last salute, inspect their uniforms to ensure everything is in its proper place, and conduct a short inspection before they march to a nearby memorial structure, where family and friends have gathered to remember a recently deceased veteran.
At the proper moment, the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Honor Guard fires its salute. Then one of its members solemnly presents some of the shell casings to the veteran’s family.
The dedicated honor guard members render these final honors – sometimes several times a day, though they once took part in nine memorial services in a day, according to Derflinger.
“We will do this anytime, rain or shine,” Derflinger said of the group, which consists mainly of veterans from the Vacaville Disabled American Veterans post. “We did this 56 times last month and more than 40 times the month before.”
The federal government’s automatic budget cuts limit the availability of active-duty military honor guards to render final honors at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery on Midway Road.
Filling that void are the retired local veterans, who volunteer their time to serve as honor guards.
The group has rendered final honors at the cemetery at the request of local funeral homes for the past four years and has seen that tide of requests steadily rise from funeral homes from as far away as Los Angeles and Oregon.
“The workload has increased about 3,000 hours to about 7,000 hours,” Derflinger said. “We get called quite a bit and we have sometimes had to refuse the request.”
The problem is that the small group of dedicated veterans is stretched to its limit and is badly in need of more veteran volunteers who are willing to put in the time.
“We will train them and provide them with the uniform,” Derflinger said. “They only have to provide the boots.”
Derflinger said that shows a commitment on the veteran honor guard member’s part.
The honor guard’s ultimate goal is to get enough volunteers to create two or three teams, so the current single team does not have to be at the cemetery nearly every day.
“I believe if we don’t do this, the government isn’t going to do it and these guys deserve that respect,” Derflinger said.
Air Force veteran Lou Flynn is one of the honor guard’s originals. At 82, he is considering stepping back.
“But I am willing to hang on as long as a need to,” he said of the hope of getting more volunteers to fill his shoes.
Army veteran Tom Murray, who joined the honor guard a few years ago, said he considers it a necessary duty to honor those who have served their country.
“It is all about giving back,” Murray said. “It feels good to be able to honor these guys one final time.”
It is also an emotional moment for them when they render final honors. Murray said it took him more than a dozen times before he could make it through hearing “Taps” played at the services without tears coming to his eyes.
Those veterans interested in volunteering or helping support the honor guard are asked to call 430-3778.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.