Lone Star Chapter Honor Guard
In 1995 Board member Joe Jackson dreamed of having a wheelchair Honor Guard, he presented his dream to the board of directors and began to put his idea into motion. It was on the back burner, but still in the minds of the Board members. In 1999 after Glendon Bentley became the chapter’s Executive Director, Cecil Gilliam a Chapter Associate Member and part of a VFW Honor Guard approached Mr. Bentley with the idea to form a wheelchair Honor Guard for an upcoming veteran’s activity at a local cemetery.
Executive Director Bentley and Mr. Cecil Gilliam approached the Board again with Mr. Jackson’s idea, stating that the chapter could borrow weapons from the VFW until they could secure their own weapons. In 1999 with the help of Mr. Gilliam, Mr. Bentley along with several of the chapter Board members began to secure weapons, uniforms and conduct training to form the Paralyzed Veterans of America's Lone Star Chapter Honor Guard and performed their first ceremony. It is reportedly the first wheelchair Honor Guard in the Nation. They started out with the basics: uniforms, weapons, and basic instruction on manual of arms. This was a learning experience for all concerned, even though some of the members had done some Honor Guard duties in the service it was different in a wheelchair and some movements were modified for the wheelchairs. The uniforms also went through some changes, it was felt that the uniform needed to be something everyone would agree on and honor all branches of the service.
As word spread about the Honor Guard it became more difficult for Mr. Bentley to properly operate the Honor Guard, while maintaining the chapter's daily operations. The Board of Directors decided then that it would be best to have a board member oversee the Honor Guard; Michael Bruscino gladly accepted the challenge. Mr. Bruscino had been a key part in the forming of the Honor Guard, assisting with training and having a great deal of knowledge with the weapons (M-1 Grands), he could also oversee maintaining the weapons and acquiring the chapter’s own weapons.
Mr. Bruscino, a U.S. Army Special Forces Veteran who was wounded and paralyzed while serving in Vietnam, believes the Honor Guard provides a much needed and very important service of giving our veterans their last salute, and found it helped bring solace to the grieving families. While Bruscino was commander of the Guard he brought the Guard from having a "rent-a-cop" appearance with borrowed weapons to the sharp, polished-looking team it is today. He worked with the Military Funeral Honors Partnership Program that allows military organizations to help active-military personnel render funeral honors and they are now an authorized military funeral provider.
Around 2005 Bruscino had to resign as commander due to family health reasons but continued to participate in services. Mr. John Fay then moved into the position as commander to keep the Guard going and continues to be the commander today. Mr. Fay also one of the founding members has continue to improve the Honor Guard and has developed a few new standards and sets up training for new members joining the Honor Guard.
The members of the Guard are highly committed and dedicated, sometimes they spend a lot of time away from their families and jobs in order to render Honors, present colors or take part in other military style activities. They make themselves available to perform with little notice, sometimes spending hours in the heat to render those honors. Most of them join the Honor Guard to show respect for their fellow veterans, fallen soldiers, and their country. Many of them feel the Honor Guard is pivotal in enabling them to continue to be of service to their country even though they are in wheelchairs, especially after September 11, they are proud to wear their uniform and represent the Lone Star Chapter.
People who see them at a service are amazed by the Honor Guard, moving as a unit and shooting [in their chairs], or posting colors. They are also very appreciative and thankful to them. The Honor Guard has been increasingly in demand due to extensive media coverage, word-of-mouth referrals, and cutbacks by the Department of Defense (DOD) in providing funeral details. Memorial Day and Veterans Day performances received coverage by local television stations and newspapers.
In addition to rendering final salutes at numerous funerals throughout Texas, they have many ceremonies they participates in. The LSPVA Honor Guard is also involved in many community activities, including parades and ceremonies. The group has been invited to post the colors and fire 21-gun salutes with M1 rifles at several ceremonies, including Memorial and Veterans Day observances at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, City of Dallas, Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas and Ft. Worth, and the Dallas VA Hospital. Veterans Day and Memorial Day are two of the busiest weekends, with invitations to perform up to three times daily all around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The Guard was honored to participate in the 2001 Golden Age Games opening ceremonies and in 2003 Presented colors at the Veterans Day ceremonies in Washington, DC. They also performed jointly with several military organizations, including the VFW District 3 Honor Guard in Dallas and Bugles Across America, Dallas TX.
The LSPVA Honor Guard had to form two teams in order to handle all the invitations, especially for the multiple-event days. To field two full teams, the Guard is raising funds to acquire more weapons, uniforms, and eventually transportation so members can arrive at events as a team. The Honor Guard continues to practice weekly, honing its skills and raising funds in order to continue bestowing Honor on our nation's veterans.