LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Every day in the United States, 372 military veterans pass away. Each one has the right to be buried with military honors. To do that, there has to be an Honor Guard. And lately, Honor Guards can be hard to come by.
"Some of the worst phone calls I have to make is having to call a funeral home back and tell them 'I don't have anybody to send,' Commander Nicole Horseman of the Lexington VFW says. "There is no soldier that should be forgotten or ignored, living or dead, and we need everyone's support."
In the past year, the Lexington VFW has participated in 1500 hours’ worth of funerals.
WKYT met Commander Horseman at her honor guard's third funeral of the week. Horseman said she's got the same few VFW members that do this service, and they desperately need more.
"A lot of the veterans are the younger generation, Iraq, Afghanistan. They have families, they have small children at home," she explained. "Part of it is a generation gap. Remarkably though there are over 8,000 veterans in Fayette County alone that are eligible to be members of the VFW, and they are not."
The Frankfort honor guards are struggling to keep up with demands as well. Frankfort Post 4075 has an older population of honor guard members, which leads to challenges staying fully staffed.
"We have a lot of people going to the doctor's all the time so you don't have enough people sometimes because of that," Post Commander Butch Graves said.
The post does about 85 to 90 funerals a year.
One of their members, 92-year-old Burnett Napier, has been a part of the honor guard in Frankfort for 20 years and been a part of more than 1,100 funerals. He said it's not that the younger generations aren't patriotic, they're just busy and don't know how powerful being a part of the honor guard really is.
"It just feels bad to think that the family is looking at you and thinking, 'Well, there should be seven rifles out there.'"
Other military organizations also participate in honor guards -- most all are stretched thin like the VFW. The Department of Veteran's Affairs supplies some funding to the honor guards.
On the hundreds of funerals WWII Veteran Napier has stood at attention during, he said it's always the playing of "Taps" that gets him.
"That is to me, by far, the hardest part of it. And you know they are playing it for the last time for that individual, and it's just a sad thing."