The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 14, 2013

A salute to the man who honors deceased vets

Edie Schmierbach
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO —

When a funeral procession arrived at an area veteran’s graveside Wednesday at Woodland Hills Cemetery, Dick Fisk and the other members of the Mankato Memorial Squad were already there, “standing tall.”

“It’s my thousandth time,” said Fisk, an 84-year-old Air Force veteran from Mankato. He’s been helping provide military honors at burials for 42 years.

The memorial squad is a group of vets from Mankato American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, which sometimes includes Marine Corps veterans and Sons of American Legion members.

Funeral directors make requests for the squad when a family wants the honor for deceased veterans as part of a burial service.

“I always have a proud feeling,” Fisk said of his participation.

“I’ve known Dick Fisk for 22 years,” said Kevin Satre of Mankato Mortuary. “He’s the consummate professional.”

Satre said watching a memorial squad can be a very powerful experience.

Members of the squad salute the casket. A flag is presented to the widow or widower of the veteran being honored.

There is a certain procedure to follow. Mankato’s squad has 13 members --- seven with rifles, four in color guard, one bugler and one person in charge.

“We go according to the book, do it the proper way,” Fisk said.

Squad members fire three volleys from seven rifles, This ceremony is not to be confused with a 21-gun salute, which is reserved for ship and artillery ceremonies, Fisk said.

He then told a joke popular with squads, who use blank ammunition in their rifles. “We might have one with a live round in case there’s a long-winded speaker,” he said.

Each guard member wears a uniform specific to his/her veterans’ organization. In the winter, it’s full uniform, sometimes with parkas, and for the summer, short sleeves.

The memorial guard is at “parade rest” and can’t move around during the service, which usually lasts 20-30 minutes.

Last year, the group participated in 87 funerals. That’s a long time spent standing for the members, many who are no longer young.

Fisk invites younger vets to join the membership so that the tradition can carry on.

“We do wonder, who’s going to take care of us when we go?” Fisk said.