Photos and Story by
First Vice Commander Christopher Hanson, Post Information Officer
Regardless of rain or snow, wind or sunshine, one team of men is always willing to carry out their mission, their duty. They form together on short notice to ensure that their comrades receive what they were promised for their dedication to a grateful nation. These members band together and pick up where they left off when they left the service years ago – to work together as a team for a common goal. And it is clear that they have never lost their urge to complete any mission at hand.
The members of the Color Guard of Gilbert C. Grafton Post 2 of Fargo, North Dakota are those men. Comprised of over twenty total Legionnaires, the team has come together countless times for nearly six decades providing final military rites for men and women who have served our country. Their job is to provide a rifle team of seven to fire rifle volleys, perform Taps, and present the flag to the next of kin. They do it with time and time again with bittersweet pride.
While no one knows certain exactly when an organized and dedicated Color Guard or Honor Guard was established at Post 2, 60-year American Legion member Vern Useldinger can recall honors being a part of Color Guard activities and funerals as far back as 1948. But Useldinger is quite certain that these activities have been going on since the post was chartered nearly one hundred years ago. He believes that the group was called a “Ceremonial Committee” which was also associated with Post drill teams, bugles corps, and rifle teams.
Today’s Color Guard is a well-oiled machine that is organized and maintained by long-time team members and Legionnaires Will Hebert and Orlyn Stensgard. Hebert serves as the lead organizer for the group while Stensgard serves as the leader of the colors with the responsibility of presenting the flag to the next-of-kin. In addition to these two leaders, Sylvan Melroe serves as the Firing Team Leader charged with the job of leading the firing squad.
Stensgard is currently one of the longest serving members on the Color Guard. He estimates that he has served for over 50 years. A retired Army officer who served with the North Dakota Army National Guard’s famed 164th Infantry Regiment, says that he began participating in color guards while he was in the National Guard and that commitment continued with the American Legion even after he left the service.
The Color Guard now functions on a standard process when it comes to military funerals. Generally, the funeral home contacts the American Legion to be a part of a funeral if the family requests military rites. Over the past five years, in addition to the Color Guard being involved, the North Dakota Military Funeral Honors Team has also gotten involved by providing flag folders for these ceremonies. The relationship has grown into a mutual respect for each other’s organizations with the united goal of providing proper honors for veterans and their families.
The members of the group have varied stories regarding what motivated them to join the Color Guard. Several members wanted to continue giving the American Legion upon their retirement from their full-time jobs. Some enjoyed the friendships they had made through the organization. Everyone has their reasons.
Larry Lein, a 20-year member of the Color Guard and a 40-year member of the American Legion said, “The reason I joined the Color Guard was because back in the day, this was just something that you did. You wanted to give to the organization and this was one of the greatest ways of doing that.”
Sylvan Melroe agreed adding, “I wanted to be involved with this storied group. And in addition to that, I always liked the pomp and circumstance of military ceremonies and this gave me a chance to be a part of that.”
After visiting with several members, there is one thing these men have in common. When asked if any particular ceremony stood out amongst all of the funerals that they had done military rites at, they universally responded that the idea of military rites and funeral honors was that they should all be done the same. They should all be performed with the same amount of dignity and respect from mission to mission. And these team members take pride in their ability to do this.
“Every funeral is different,” said Bob Lechner, another longtime member of both the Color Guard and the Legion. “But nothing stands out because our job is to provide these rites in the same way for each and every veteran we serve.”
Dave Rice agreed with everyone as far as no one funeral standing out verses another, but did point out, “No one forgets those funerals where it’s 30 below outside in the winter!” Others certainly agreed with that- the elements make some funerals difficult, but nonetheless, the mission must go on with no regard to weather.
No honor guard would be complete without a bugler, of course. The color guard has several bugle and trumpet players who participate in funerals. Konrad Olson, a ten-year member of the team, serves as the primary trumpet player for the group performing Taps at funerals. Olson, along with fellow trumpet players Perry Kleven and Jeff DeVillers who provide this musical skill to the team, says that the performance of Taps, “provides a sense of closure to the ceremony” and “adds so much to the already solemn and dignified ceremony.” Indeed, the playing of Taps does provide the beautiful final touches to this special event, a final and fitting tribute to our veterans.
In addition to doing funerals and ceremonies, the Color Guard also presents colors at various community events to include sports events and community ceremonies. It is not uncommon to see the Color Guard present when military units arrive home at local airports. And they are often present at local parades, although the growing age of the members sometimes prevents them from marching too long of parades. Nonetheless, the members of the Color Guard want to keep doing as much as they physically can.
The Color Guard at Post 2 has served as one of the most busy and visible organizations within the American Legion. Their hard work and efforts sometimes seem unnoticed, but these are men that should be credited with the accolades that they deserve. They served our nation in the military many years ago and years later, continue to serve through a veteran service organization. Hopefully their example will be a motivator for young veterans and American Legion members and they will follow in their footsteps. There isn’t a better group of men out there to be exemplified.
New District 1 Leadership for Membership Year 2018
Post 2 is proud to announce that two of their members were selected tonight to serve as the incoming leadership of District 1! Christopher Hanson was selected as District Vice Commander (Elect) and Michele Olson was selected as District Commander (Elect) for membership year 2018!
From the National Commander
CLICK HERE to read the latest from our National Commander Charles Schmidt.
Hawaii Fights to Save WWI Memorial
The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium has fallen into disrepair. Now the Legion and preservationists are trying to save it from being torn down. CLICK HERE to read more.
National Poppy Day Supports Veterans, Honors the Fallen
The American Legion Family leads the effort to keep all who served front and center heading into Memorial Day weekend. CLICK HERE to read more.
Purple Heart Lie Results in Six Guilty Verdicts
A former Holly Springs police officer was found guilty Tuesday of falsely claiming he was a Purple Heart recipient four years after an investigation showed he lied about his military affiliation. CLICK HERE to read more.
Vietnam Veterans Day: An Unforgettable Medal of Honor Message
The President signed legislation honoring Vietnam Veterans Day, and a speech about coming home- CLICK HERE for more.
An "Ideal Setting" to Honor a Veteran
Post 27 in New Hampshire hosted a ceremony for a World War II veteran who received medals earned decades earlier. CLICK HERE to read on.
"They Served Each Other"
At a World War I centennial event, our American Legion national commander praised the generation that fought the Great War and founded The American Legion. CLICK HERE to read more.
Seabees Celebrate 75 Years of Successes
The Seabees have played a role in every U.S. conflict since World War II, providing national security, alleviating humanitarian crises and responding to natural disasters. CLICK HERE to read more.
America's Military is Losing Its Technology Edge
The global war on terrorism and reduced defense spending have taken their toll, even as rival nations are modernizing their forces. CLICK HERE to read on.
National Commander Used Legion Legacy to Advance Legislative Agenda
National Commander Schmidt testifies before joint session of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees. CLICK HERE to learn more!
OMW Delivers Largest Grant to a VA Facility in Two Years
The New Mexico VA Health Care System in Albuquerque received $10,000 for the purchase of needed items for its veterans. CLICK HERE to read more!
The 9/11 Never Forget Exhibit
We're working to help in the efforts to bring this incredible exhibit to West Fargo at the Red River Valley Fair this summer. Stay tuned for more details. But, for now, go check out the information on the 9/11 Never Forget Exhibit. It's worth your time. CLICK HERE to learn more!
VALOR at NDSU
VALOR (Veteran Alliance Organization) was created to improve the campus climate for military and veteran students at North Dakota State University. The concept is to create a network of ADVOCATES made up of staff, faculty, and administrators at NDSU who are identified to our veteran students as people that they can go to for guidance and direction.
VALOR materials and training opportunities provide:
VALOR is sponsored by American Legion Post 400 and an Advisory Board that provides guidance and oversight.
Questions on the program can be directed to Commander Christopher Hanson or Past Commander Brad Aune, both who are Advisory Board members of VALOR.
New Mexico Man Admits Stolen Valor Charge
Anthony Gambino, 43, has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and violating the Stolen Valor Act. CLICK HERE to read more.
Department of Maryland Legionnaires Attend a Sendoff Ceremony
Department of Maryland members show support to 200 National Guard troops headed to the Middle East for nine months. CLICK HERE to read more!
Legion Assessing Damage in Storm-Ravaged Georgia
Tornadoes killed at least 15 in state, caused $100 million in damage. CLICK HERE to read more.
"We're Saving Lives"
After a brutal cold spell hit Portland and caused multiple deaths, Legion Post 134 set up a warming shelter that has housed more than 20 area residents each night. CLICK HERE to read more.
Appeals Modernization, Choice Program, Cannabis Research
New American Legion Legislative Director Matthew Shuman talks key issues facing veterans on Capitol Hill. CLICK HERE to read more.
Why Join the Legion?
Looking for good reasons to join or convince someone to join the American Legion? Wondering if it would be worth it to start up again after letting your membership lapse? CLICK HERE to read more about why you should join us in our mission and cause!