Honor guard, color guard members carry on military heritage

Nancy Feeney, Special to the News-Press

When an honor guard fires off a rifle volley during a veteran’s funeral, it is often a moment for pride and reflection. When the color guard slowly and reverently carries the American and Nebraska flags onto a high school playing field or gymnasium, it becomes so quiet and still, you can almost hear your heartbeat.

Color guards and honor guards are an important part of our military rituals in America. In Nebraska City, two women who are members of the local VFW Auxiliary No. 2634 are proud to be a part of these guards.

Shelley Ramage and Nancy Giles have participated in both these guards for several years now. They were recently recognized for this important service when Bonnie Gerlt of Omaha, past state VFW Auxiliary president, presented Ramage and Giles with Auxiliary pins for their uniform hats as well as a special pin Gerlt chose to represent her presidency.

“Being in these guards is an important job,” Gerlt told them during her presentation. “The VFW State Auxiliary is proud of what you do and wanted you to know we appreciate your efforts.”

Ramage and Giles’ journey with the honor guard began three years ago when the American Legion Post 246 out of Talmage began contacting local VFWs and VFW Auxiliaries recruiting new members.

The Legion realized they were often falling short of the seven members needed to fill out an honor guard so the 21-shot rifle volley can be fired at a veteran’s funeral.

When Roger Kopf, a member of the Nebraska City VFW Post No. 2634, was contacted by this American Legion Post, he and his wife, VFW Auxiliary Post No. 2634 President Paula Waterfield, knew that both Giles and Ramage might be interested.

The two VFW Auxiliary members were quickly recruited and joined both the honor guard and color guard.

Both Ramage and Giles have strong military backgrounds. Ramage, whose hometown is Monrovia, Calif., spent five years in the Army, from 1988 to 1993. She met her future husband, Nebraska City native William Ramage, while they were both serving at Fort Drum in New York. Eight years ago, they moved their family back to his hometown.

Nancy Giles is from Bainbridge, Wash., and is married to Roy Giles, a 24-year Navy veteran.  Nancy spent the last 10 years of Roy’s naval career moving around the country with him.

In 2003, they moved their family to Nebraska City after Roy retired from the Navy and took a job at the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville.

In the past few years, both women have participated in the 7-person honor guard at about a dozen veterans’ funerals in this area.

Participating in the honor guard at veterans’ funerals is important to Giles.

“I feel these veterans deserve this respect given to them at their funerals,” she said. “We need to stand for those who can no longer stand for themselves. This is their last call . . . their last honor as they are laid to rest. It’s important we remember the reasons that we have what we have is due to the sacrifices these people made. I want to respect them.”

Besides participating in many color guard activities as football games, Memorial Day and Veterans Day gatherings and rallies, Giles and Ramage have walked side-by-side carrying the flags at the beginning of the last two AppleJack parades.

They found out that holding the large American and Nebraska flags upright in a strong wind can be a real challenge.

“These flags are heavy and with a strong wind behind them, it’s a hard job to keep them upright,” Giles said. By the end of the parade, their arms might be aching, but the flags are still standing tall.

Ramage feels strongly about her role in both the color guard and honor guard.

“When I started participating in these guards, there were several police shootings going on around the country,” Ramage said. “I am glad I joined these guards when I did so people could see that we agree on a lot in this country, and we shouldn’t let people divide us.” She added, “We can have a united country and present a united front. It makes me happy to participate.”

“My dad was a Marine and my grandfather was in the Navy,” Ramage continued. “They both served in segregated militaries. But I didn’t. Those things weren’t in place when I served.”

She believes this country has made a lot of advances in recent years. “We can move forward,” Ramage said.

Besides Ramage and Giles, Roger Kopf also participates in the Talmage American Legion Honor Guard and Color Guard. Kopf recalls that in the past, many VFW and American Legion members participated in these guards.

He said at one time the American Legion Post 246 had 50 members who could be called on to participate in guards for parades and funerals.

Bonnie Gerlt of Omaha, left, past state VFW Auxiliary president, showed her appreciation for Ramage and Giles’ participation in their local guards by presenting them with Auxiliary pins to attach to their uniform hats.
Nancy Giles and Shelley Ramage carried the flags and kicked off the past few AppleJack Parades in downtown Nebraska City.