The Fort Bedford Honor Guard celebrated its 75 years of service on Tuesday during a ceremony that also recognized the efforts of the last surviving member of the original unit.
Robert V. Howsare, 96, was in attendance for the event at the Bedford County Historical Society. He was one of five men who helped form the honor guard in 1946.
“I never realized it would go this far,” Howsare said after the ceremony, reflecting on the formation of the rifle squad and burial unit and the years of service that followed.
The original group of veterans, who also included Fred Wilfong, Ray Mock, Adam Crouse and Bob May, met in the back corner of the Fort Bedford VFW Post 7527 and ironed out details on forming a unit to attend the funerals for servicemen whose bodies were returned home in 1946 after the end of World War II.
Bill Mock, historian for the unit, spoke about the organization’s history and its roots to the Bedford VFW during the ceremony. He cited past conversations with Howsare, as well as other early members, William M. Ford and Francis H. Wilson, to tell the story of the guard’s early years.
Mock praised the men for the selfless dedication to continue serving their country after leaving the battlefields of war.
“We realize that most everything we have today has all been established through the service and sacrifice of other people, with their contributions being provided to us,” he said.
While the veterans had started attending funerals for their comrades prior to the official formation of the honor guard, Mock said each of the early members agreed that the distinctive “unit formation” was in June 1946.
Howsare said he has attended countless funerals and services over the years.
“Back in 1946, we were doing two and three in a day,” he said, noting those services were typically held on weekends.
Howsare said he would occasionally need to miss a half-day of work to attend services, but said it was something he wanted to do.
“Anytime we had a funeral or some kind of a ceremony or something, I’d try to make it my business to attend,” he said.
Mock said Howsare and his comrades set the foundation for future generations to continue the military tradition. He noted that fewer than 250 men and women have been recorded participating in the unit over its history. Through his conversations with members in past years, he said most explained their desire to serve being tied to “love, loyalty, duty and dedication.”
Mock added he believed it to be his assignment in life to help future generations remember that dedication.
“Over time, I had come to realize that part of my legacy while participating in the honor guard was to preserve theirs,” he said.
The ceremony was attended by the Bedford County commissioners and representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Dr. John Joyce, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, state Reps. Jesse Topper and Carl Walker Metzgar, and state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr.
Commissioner Barry Dallara and Lloyd Roach, a Navy veteran, both offered remarks about the important role the honor guard serves.
“You represent a living memorial to those who served our country and were willing to die for our country if required,” Dallara told the guard members in attendance.
Dallara added the unit offers a “true testimony” to the families of service personnel.
“There are no words that can adequately express your sadness to the families of a loved one that passed, but you are there to grieve with them,” he said. “Knowing that the world is a lesser place without them, yet knowing Heaven is improved by their presence there.”
Howsare was presented with the “Soldier’s Cross” statue and the U.S. Military Oath of Enlistment during the ceremony.
“It was amazing,” he said about the recognition. “I never realized that anything like this would honor me for being in the service and serving my country.”
The Bedford County Chamber of Commerce conducted a ribbon-cutting at the end of the ceremony for an exhibit in the historical society highlighting the 75 years of the honor guard’s history. The display, which was put together by Mock, illustrates the unit’s stages of development and uniform transition, as well as features other treasured remnants. The exhibit will be on display until the end of the month.