The air conditioning works, which already lands the Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard’s new ride ahead of what it was using to get around.
Recently, Mount Airy’s VFW Post 2019 received a new bus for the honor guard, which is comprised of members from the Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain posts.
The honor guard is tasked with performing the military rites at funerals for Surry County veterans and veterans in adjacent counties. The bus is based out of and owned by the Mount Airy post, according to post commander Dave Raborn. However, the honor includes members from both the Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain’s Post 9436 in order to have enough personnel to provide proper military burial rites.
Raborn said the group was riding to funerals in a 1992 Ford Econoline bus. With about 200,000 miles on it, the bus suffered one mechanical problem after another. Most recently, the air conditioning stopped working. The group was faced with a large bill to replace the air conditioning unit in the aging bus or an even bigger bill for a new bus.
“We raised about $15,000,” said Raborn, but that figure didn’t come close to covering the costs for a new bus.
The veterans group turned to public entities for help. After Raborn and others went before the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, city commissioners opted to allocate $20,000 to help the group for the purchase. After appearing before the Surry County Board of Commissioners, county commissioners tossed another $15,000 in the pot.
“We really have to thank them for helping out,” said Raborn, noting that it was the first time he had asked for taxpayer dollars to aid the VFW’s mission. “Everybody pitched in to make this possible.”
He noted many area residents and businesses, a “list to long to print,” helped out in making contributions.
After a generous discount from Parkway Ford in Winston-Salem, the group was able to purchase a new 2017 Ford bus for $40,000, said Raborn. The group incurred additional costs for taxes and title and to have the bus wrapped with VFW graphics.
Running boards also had to be added, as the bus sat too high for some of the group’s members to step into it, explained Raborn. The honor guard’s oldest member will soon turn 85. The bus will also be fitted with gun racks on which honor guard members can securely store the rifles they use to carry out their duties.
Carlyle Whitaker, who was formerly in charge of the Mount Airy post’s members of the honor guard, said in 2016 the group performed military burial rites at 66 funerals in the area. However, in years prior they have worked as many as 95 funerals.
Arlis Thomas, who now holds Whitaker’s position, said the group has performed its duties at 46 funerals so far in 2017.
Whitaker said the honor guard at Post 2019 has existed since the late Jack Leach formed it in 1947. Eventually the Mount Airy post merged its efforts with those of Pilot Mountain. As many members aged out of their duties or passed away, it became increasingly more difficult to find folks to perform the duties.
Whitaker said the honor guard is the lone group in Surry County authorized to perform burial rites.
Raborn said all Surry County and Mount Airy taxpayers had a hand in ensuring the members of the honor guard can make it to the funerals of America’s heroes, and the duties they perform are some of the most important in the eyes of veterans.
“Doing this is so important to each and every one of us,” said Raborn. “The most important thing we can do is to say goodbye to our comrades.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.