Each honorably discharged veteran is given a military burial service by the honor guard, at no charge to the family. The service includes folding and presentation of the flag, a rifle salute and the playing of Taps, a tradition the all-volunteer group relies on donations to perform.
The Saratoga National Cemetery Honor Guard is one of only five non-military honor guard units in the entire nation. “It’s a very proud organization,” said trustee Martin Volin. “It’s completely veterans and completely nonprofit and all volunteer.”
Volin said the honor guard operates 52 weeks a year, five days a week. “Whether it’s 106 degrees or minus 10 - and I’ve been out in both - we’re there,” he said.
Honor Guard Commander Richard Roberts said the organization began July 9, 1999, the same year the cemetery opened. He said the group was started because there was an interest among veterans to perform the service for other veterans.
There are about 100 active members, men and women, from all branches of the military. Most of the members are in their 60s or 70s and retired, although Volin said there are some members who are still working and participate when they can.
There are six squads of 12 to 18 members, each serving one day a week, plus a roving squad to give the others an occasional day off.
Volin said he finds new members for the honor guard simply by talking to other veterans. He wears a jacket that has an honor guard emblem on it, and when people ask him about the organization he invites them to join. Other times he’ll spot veterans who are wearing caps listing their branch or unit and strike up a conversation. That’s how he ended up joining.
Right after he moved to the area about eight years ago, Volin said he was at Friendly’s Ice Cream and wearing a United States Marine Corps hat. Another Marine saw him and asked him to join the honor guard. Volin did so immediately and was thrilled to be able to do something right away in his new community.
The honor guard does not fundraise or solicit money. It relies solely on donations, usually from families, but Roberts said donations have been steadily decreasing each year. He said when the cemetery first opened there were a lot of services and corresponding donations.
“A lot of veterans’ relatives wanted them buried in this cemetery,” he explained. Many families whose loved ones were buried in other cemeteries actually had them moved to the Saratoga National Cemetery when it opened. “But as time has passed and a lot of the World War II veterans have passed away and the numbers are now starting to settle out, there are not as many services and are proportionally fewer donations.”
Volin said the economy has also reduced the amount of the donations and the gap between donations and expenses is growing wider. “We’re in a bind. We do have some money, but not enough to cover us. This year, so far, our savings are down about $4,000.”
Expenses for the organization include ammunition, rifles and uniforms. Volin said there are five to seven riflemen on duty each day. An average of five burials take place each day, and each rifle is fired three times per burial, so between 75 and 105 rounds are expended.
The rifles used by the honor guard are from World War II and the Korean War, and cost about $400 each to replace. Each new member is given winter and summer uniforms plus rain gear, also at a cost of approximately $400.
The largest expense the organization is facing, however, is replacing its bus. Some of the committal ceremony areas are as much as one mile from the squad room, where the rifles and ammunition are stored. Volin said although the squads sometimes walk to the sites, when it’s very hot or cold and snowy they need to use the bus.
“Right now the honor guard has a bus that’s on its last legs,” Volin said. The bus lacks heat or air conditioning, has broken seating and exposed ducts that are held together by rags.
Volin said the group is looking for a 12 to 15-passenger bus that’s about six years old with 100,000 miles for $6,000 to $7,000. They were offered a larger bus for $5,000 but it wouldn’t have fit in the garage.
The group is hoping the community will help with financial gifts so it can purchase a bus soon. Volin said the current bus was “just re-repaired again, but eventually it’s going to have to be replaced, probably sooner rather than later.”
He said at this time of year, there are many organizations looking for gifts. “People you’ve never heard of come out of the woodwork. Some are legitimate organizations. We hope maybe there will be some extra dollars around.”
Donations to the honor guard may be sent to Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, 200 Duell Road, Schuylerville, NY 12871, attention April Van Arnum.
Roberts said checks should be payable to Saratoga National Honor Guard and if they are specifically for the bus, that should be noted in the memo.