Veterans' families feel impact of state cuts to military funerals

Members of the Westbrook Veterans Honor Guard rifle team, from left, Paul Kwasniewski, Dick Barry and John Latino, fire the rifle volley during the rendering of full military honors at the funeral of Vietnam veteran Lester John Kraaz Jr. on Oct. 28, 2016, at Centerbrook Cemetery in Essex. The honor guard is made up primarily of military veterans who volunteer to provide military honors at the funerals of veterans in Connecticut. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Members of the Westbrook Veterans Honor Guard rifle team, from left, Paul Kwasniewski, Dick Barry and John Latino, fire the rifle volley during the rendering of full military honors at the funeral of Vietnam veteran Lester John Kraaz Jr. on Oct. 28, 2016, at Centerbrook Cemetery in Essex. The honor guard is made up primarily of military veterans who volunteer to provide military honors at the funerals of veterans in Connecticut. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Dave Huber recently buried his father, Paul, a World War II veteran who was awarded both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

While graveside at the funeral, the Huber family noticed something was missing: There was no three-volley salute, a customary tradition at military funerals.

The state, effective July 1, stopped paying the stipend to the Honor Guard detail that carries out the salute. The state is without a budget and is operating off an executive order signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that does not include the funding for the Honor Guard.

Malloy's spokesman Chris McClure said the funding could be restored, as the stipends are paid throughout the year and ensuing appropriation or allocation plans could include funding.

"Our whole family believes every veteran should have the full military honors," Huber, of Mystic, said. "Everyone that served this great country should have that honor. They deserve it."

Before he died, his father, Huber said, requested to be buried with full military honors.

Federal law mandates the playing of taps, a traditional bugle call, and the folding and presenting of an American flag to the deceased's next of kin. Additional honors such as a rifle volley are contingent on available resources.

Huber said the soldiers at his father's funeral who played taps and presented the flag to his mother were "terrific," but his siblings, good friends and wife "all pointed out that it would've been nice to have full military honor."

Some veterans groups in Connecticut are voluntarily and, for free, providing its members to render salute.

"We're not going to let the budget stop us from honoring our fallen vets," said Louie Robinson, state commander of the American Legion, whose group has continued to provide the service.

In advance of the most recent legislative session, Malloy directed state agencies to find 10 percent in savings within their budgets. Of the proposed options from the Military Department, the biggest cost savings — about $326,000 — would come from eliminating the three-party firing detail at military funerals. It was listed as fourth in a list of seven department priorities for cutting funding.

Members of the Honor Guard detail, who render the three-volley salute, are paid a $50-a-day stipend. On average, they perform at 3,500 military funerals a year.

The three-volley salute derives from an old custom in which battles would temporarily stop so each side could clear the dead. The firing of three volleys signified the dead were removed and the battle could continue.

A proposal in the General Assembly, which did not pass, would have required the state to provide for the three-party firing detail. Several veterans groups supported the measure, and were critical of the proposal to cut the funding. In 2015, Malloy cut the funding as part of his 2016 fiscal year budget proposal, but state legislators later restored the cut.

j.bergman@theday.com

Paul Huber (right) with his brother Ben (left). Photo courtesy of the Huber family.
Paul Huber (right) with his brother Ben (left). Photo courtesy of the Huber family.

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