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Utah veterans from every war recognized for attending thousands of funerals


SALT LAKE CITY — The funeral song “Danny Boy” floated over a crowd of grizzled veterans Friday, reverberating off the marble floors and up into the coffered dome of the Utah State Capitol 160 feet above.

These men and women— over 120 of them — have heard that song many, many times. As part of honor guards across the state, they perform military rites at the funerals of Utah veterans, traveling hundreds of miles, paying for their own gas, their own uniform and asking nothing in return.

Now it was their turn to be honored.

“We have had the honor of laying the flag at the feet of widows and orphans, have we not?” said Ninzel Rasmuson, commander of the Utah American Legion, of veterans that have served in every American war, from World War II to Afghanistan.

Rep. John Curtis and Keven Stratton give honor guard veterans awards at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday for providing military honors at over 100 funerals.
Rep. John Curtis and Keven Stratton give honor guard veterans awards at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday for providing military honors at over 100 funerals. (Photo: Collin Leonard, KSL.com)

Members who have served in over 100 military funerals were receiving the Centurion Award, though a number in the crowd have been to over 1,000.

“Today we turn our attention to you to express our sincere gratitude, and extend our deepest appreciation. You deserve the highest recognition,” said state Sen. Heidi Balderree, R-Saratoga Springs. speaking on behalf of Sen. Mike Lee. Balderree also read a statement from Sen. Mitt Romney, saying “Because of selfless people like you, Utah is the best state to live, work and raise a family.”

Rep. John Curtis was the keynote speaker, and talked about lessons learned from his father’s military service.

The honor guard is quite literally dying out, despite the large demand for their services. “We’ve lost one third of the honor guards in Utah over the last 20 years,” said Kraig Thorne, commander of Timpanogos honor guard. Thorne has been attending funerals for 15 years, and guesses he’s gone to well over 1,000.

Some groups’ average age is in the 80s, making travel difficult, and there are not enough veterans to replace those who cannot participate anymore.

The commitment is taxing, with each funeral taking well over an hour, not including commuting time. They are given money by the military for the brass blanks they shoot during their 21 gun salute, and loaner M-1 rifles from the Korean War, but aside from that, these groups are sustained by donations from the families of the fallen vets. With the costs of the funeral and accompanying grief, it’s no surprise that the guards receive donations “once every 20 funerals or so,” according to Thorne.

Honor guard veterans fire a 21-gun salute on the south lawn of the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday.
Honor guard veterans fire a 21-gun salute on the south lawn of the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday. (Photo: Collin Leonard, KSL.com)

“My grandfather and my dad were veterans, as well as two of my uncles,” Thorne said. “The honor guard is the one thing that helps all veterans.” That’s why he does it. And the special ceremony felt like a big family reunion, full of tears and grins, these servicemembers share a common bond that was formed long after they left the military.

The group filed out onto the Capitol’s South Lawn, where guns were fired into the wind and the sound of bagpipes was swept away into the surrounding neighborhoods.



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