Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Spring Hill VFW Post 10209 honor guard feels duty-bound to serve

SPRING HILL

It's 12:45 p.m., and Jose "Mike" Gonsalves, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 honor guard, calls the members of his squad over for last-minute instructions for the final farewell they are about to pay to a fellow veteran. In a low voice, Gonsalves explains that the ceremony will be simple — a prayer, plus a few personal words about Lee F. Timm, a Spring Hill Navy veteran who served in Vietnam and who died Oct. 31 at age 64 after a long illness. Afterward, they will assemble outside for a traditional rifle salute. The nine members of the all-volunteer squad have performed this ritual dozens of times. They all know their responsibilities. But the work is never routine to them. "It's something of a sacred act to us," said Gonsalves, 63. "We're performing a service to the family, but it's personal to everyone involved here. This is something we feel that every veteran has earned."

• • •

Friday's assignment couldn't have come on nicer day, two days prior to Veterans Day. As members of the honor guard stood under a cloudless sky, the warm sun and cool breeze felt good on the shoulders of Richard Bozek, 65, as he gathered his gear from the van and readied himself for the service in the parking lot of Downing Funeral Home in Spring Hill.

Dressed in black slacks, black leather shoes, white gloves and a white shirt with patches identifying his Army service in Vietnam, Bosek patiently waited for family members and friends to come outside for the rifle salute.

Bosek, who joined the Post 10209 honor guard three years ago, has come to expect just about every type of weather when he attends a service. He has stood silent at grave sites while being peppered by cold winter rain; he has patiently stood vigil over flag-draped caskets at Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell in the blazing summer heat. No matter the conditions, he considers it a duty to be there.

"It's all about honor," Bozek said. "We do this because it's the right thing to do for a comrade. To see that they get an honorable burial."

But Bozek and his fellow honor guard members can't help but think they are part of a dwindling fraternity. Of the approximately 1,300 members of Post 10209, just 15 belong to the honor guard. And in a county that has one of the highest concentrations of retirement-age veterans in the United States, that has created a squeeze on the small volunteer corps, whose average age is 68.

Performing an average of eight or nine services a week, the group has been known to attend as many as three funerals in a single day.

"We're not a young bunch," said Gonsalves. "You stand for two hours in the summer heat, and it gets you. We don't like turning down any requests, but some days we have to because we just don't have enough people to be everywhere we're needed."

Gonsalves said the summer months, when many honor guard members are up North, are the toughest. Drumming up four people able to attend a service can become a tough task.

"We do the best we can," Gonsalves said. "Still, you hate to call on somebody when you know they're having health problems."

But then, some members of the honor guard are just that dedicated, Gonsalves said.

Vietnam veteran Ronald McCombs, 64, a cancer survivor, recalled his days following chemotherapy, when he felt he couldn't endure the rigors of a service. He went anyway because he didn't want to let down a fellow veteran.

"This is something I do for myself," McCombs said. "Being in the service was an important part of my life. I know that what we do for the family means a lot to them."

• • •

Outside the funeral home on Friday, honor guard members John Cox, Ken Crocker, Bozek and McCombs stood at attention with rifles by their sides while Timm's family members and friends slowly filed out.

A gentle breeze blew as Barbara Currin raised a bugle to her lips.

As the solemn tones of taps faded into the traffic on U.S. 19, the riflemen waited for the final command.

"Fire." "Fire." "Fire."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]

Spring Hill VFW Post 10209 honor guard feels duty-bound to serve 11/10/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 12, 2012 9:10am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack

    World

    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.