Color Guard salutes fallen heroes - including their own

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Donald Atkins, commander of the VFW Post #46.

Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Donald Atkins, commander of the VFW Post #46.

Donald Atkins, former commander of American Legion High Desert Post 56, began organizing an honor guard in early 2006 to pay tribute to fallen service members.

The guard was federally certified on Oct. 22, 2007, as the first honor guard in Carson City.

On Monday, they performed their first Memorial Day ceremonies with that distinction. However, Atkins was not there to celebrate.

Instead, fellow guard member Art Baer, stood at attention and saluted the placard nestled in the grass at Lone Mountain Cemetery that read: "Donald A. Atkins. U.S. Air Force. Korea. Dec. 30, 1977-June 30, 2007."

"It's kind of tough to lose friends," Baer said. He paused, choking back tears, then apologized. "I shouldn't get emotional, but I do. It's just tough."

Baer, who served in the Korean War from 1958-61, said he finds solace as a member of the honor guard, which provides 21-gun salutes, flag presentations and a bugler at military funerals.

"It's our last respects to them," he said. "We all went through hell and this is saying 'thank you' to those who didn't make it back."

Hundreds more gathered Monday to show their appreciation as well at several ceremonies throughout the region, including one at the Dayton Cemetery, another at Stewart Indian Cemetery and three at Lone Mountain Cemetery in Carson City.

Korean War veteran Don Podlas, chaplain of the Silver State Detachment of Marine Corps League, spoke at the noon ceremony at Lone Mountain Cemetery.

"Memorial Day, with its sad and sacred memories, has come again," he said. "This day has been consecrated to our departed warriors and dedicated to patriotism. It gives us an appropriate occasion to dedicate and reconsecrate ourselves to the preservation of the fruits of their victories, and the sacred heritage which was purchased by their valor and sealed with their blood."

Ramona Long, 77, appreciated the show of support. A member of the American Legion High Desert Unit 56, she came in memory of her husband, Carl E. Long, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy who died April 7, 2006.

He had been a member of the honor guard as well, and his funeral was the first one where the guard presided.

"They're great guys," Ramona said. "They've been very supportive of me. I really appreciate them. I really, really do."

Her father, she said, was a World War I veteran and crossed the Atlantic 22 times during his service.

So far, none of her children or grandchildren have been involved in military conflict.

"Nobody wants to see anyone go to war," she said. "But the boys that do serve, I'm 100 percent behind the veterans."

Gesturing to the flags that adorned the graves of veterans, some of whom he knew personally, Baer said, "We owe all those guys out there an awful lot. People don't realize what they sacrificed."

• Contact reporter Teri Vance at tvance@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1272.

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