How Operation Honor Guard was born

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – You see honor guards at military funerals. They help give a fitting and proper goodbye to someone who has served their country.

A funeral director in Illinois took notice of an honor guard there, standing outside for hours in the heat, never breaking stride. That led to a movement he started to help Honor Guards everywhere.

Rich Darby of Champagne, Illinois, is the founder of Operation Honor Guard.

“It was August 2013. I’m a licensed funeral director, was working a graveside. It was hot that day and I was outside. Temperatures were 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity and at the cemetery, I was soaking wet with sweat. I had sweat dripping down my back, my suit coat was just wet, and I was saying, ‘Hey, I just want to get in the car and head back to the funeral home.’ And I happened to look to my left and I had this ‘aha’ moment and there proudly stood at attention the local honor guard. There were 14 gentlemen standing there proudly. They’d been waiting there for a long time and they weren’t feeling sorry for themselves, and I happened to look at them and they all had different mismatching uniforms and I just thought to myself, Yyou know, it’s time that I helped them.’ So that day, Operation Honor Guard was formed.”

Darby explained how many honor guard units have benefited since that day.

“We’ve recently helped nearly 100 honor guards throughout the nation,” Darby said.

“It roughly costs $800 to outfit one honor guard member and so to date, we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far to help the honor guards. But if you think about it, there are in the United States, over 10,000 honor guard units out there working each and every day. On average, they have 12 to 14 honor guard members per detail. If you do the math, 10,000 times $800 per honor guard member, that’s $96 million that we need to raise,” Darby explained.

That’s where the National Day of Giving comes in.

“Each and every year, we’re expanding our footprint. We’re going to be in Knoxville because of a good friend of mine and also board of director member for Operation Honor Guard and your station manager at WATE, Coby Cooper. He saw value in what we were doing here in Central Illinois,” Darby said.

He also had a message to share with East Tennessee.

“What I want people in the Knoxville area to know is donating and supporting the local area honor guards, you’re saving tradition. If the honor guards go away, we have no military rites at fallen veterans’ funerals, we’ll have lost one of the greatest traditions that we have in the U.S. and so I put it out to all of you in the Knoxville area to please come and support. I know that many of you have seen the honor guards, I know many of you have been touched – you’ve lost your father, your grandfather, your uncle – to see them perform their duties is unbelievable.”

In addition to driving by with your donations on the Day of Giving, Wednesday, October 11 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Rose Mortuary locations on Kingston Pike and North Broadway, Darby says the need is great for more honor guards. If you’re interested, check in with your local VFW or American Legion Post, and let them know you’re willing to help.

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