SERGEANT BLUFF – Among the military traditions performed at a veteran’s funeral service, the 21-gun salute commands everyone’s attention.
The three volleys of gunfire noticeably cause a flinch or two among some of the onlookers.
What happens after those shots are fired often goes unnoticed. Spent casings are collected and then presented to the family, a final symbol of their veteran’s service.
It’s a symbol that Vince Bugg thinks could be presented better.
When Bugg became Sergeant-at-Arms at George Nelson American Legion Post 662 in Sergeant Bluff and took on the responsibility of organizing veterans’ funerals, he thought there had to be a more respectful way to present these shells to families. . Carrying them in clasped hands and then handing them over to the family didn’t seem right.
“It seemed awkward to drop a whole handful of seashells into their hands,” Bugg said.
He turned to plastic bags, but that didn’t seem very appropriate either.
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Then he thought of the little American flags taken down each year after spending the previous 12 months marking the graves of veterans. Perhaps they could be put to another use rather than being burned with other retired flags.
“I had all these flags that were in good shape and it felt like a waste to throw them away,” Bugg said.
He tinkered with ideas, taking old flags and bending them here and there. He went with a design where he folded the flag over, sewed three sides closed, then added a Velcro closure to the open end. When finished, he had a small bag that held all 21 shells – much more creditable than a plastic bag.
“These flags have all watched over a fallen serviceman before. Now they have a second watch to hold a serviceman’s shells,” Bugg said.
Bugg writes the servicemember’s name and service information on the stripes of the flag with a stencil and pen. He also slips a list of the names of the members of the firing squad and the person who played the Taps, along with his business card informing the family that, if they wish, he can provide photos of the firing squad firing the shots. of fire at the service.
He presents the bag to the family at the end of the service, informing them that the three volleys fired during the ceremony represent honor, duty and country.
“I say your loved one has fulfilled all of those obligations,” said Bugg, a retired firefighter with the 185th Air Refueling Wing, Iowa Air National Guard, where he served for 21 years.
Bugg presents the bag with the stars facing up, then flips it over to reveal the deceased veteran’s name and service information. In some cases, the information he wrote down may be more than the serviceman ever revealed to family members.
“It’s just a little extra for the family,” he said. “He thinks it’s a bit more touching. There’s the story and the names.”
For more than two years, Bugg has been making the bags for every service Sergeant Bluff’s Legion post attends, as well as others who request them. He made bags for two Woodbury County men who died aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor and whose remains were recently identified and sent home for burial.
Bugg urges young veterans to get involved with the American Legion or other service organizations so that there are enough people to fill firing squads and perform other military rites at veterans’ funerals in the future. He shared his clamshell bag idea with other posts as an easy way to add an extra touch of honor to a veteran’s funeral.
“This guy has done so much for his country. I want to do as much as possible for him,” Bugg said.
Long after the echoes of firing from the firing squad have died down, the shells remain wrapped in the American flag and held in honor, along with the memory of the veteran they represent.