When the call comes, they serve — just like they did some 50 years ago.
The nine members of Kenosha Area Vietnam Veterans provide an honor guard at military funerals, doing about 130 services a year.
“It’s an important service, honoring those at their passing,” Kenosha Ald. Jack Rose said. “They just do it. They do it very quietly; they do it very honorably. They do one (ceremony) and get ready for the next one. The honor guard is very, very special,”
Because of their unwavering service to their fellow veterans, the group was recently honored by the city as Hometown Heroes.
The honor guard includes Richard Bowker, Roy Beals, Bill Bredek, Don Martinelli, Tim Green Sr., Robert “Bob” Brown, Lou Polovick, Robert “Bob” Marion and Charles “Chuck” Burmeister.
Rose said the Hometown Heroes Commission unanimously approved giving the award to all nine men at once — something that has never happened before.
“It’s wonderful, fantastic being honored,” Bowker said. After his wife informed the city of his efforts, Bowker was selected to become a Hometown Hero. But Bowker said he “is only one of the people who do the military funerals” and wanted his colleagues honored, too. The City Council made that happen.
“I wanted to see the whole squad honored,” Bowker said. “The city got back to me and said, ‘We’re going to do your whole honor guard.’ I felt a lot better about it because then I wasn’t going to be the only person.”
The Kenosha Hometown Heroes award program is dedicated to identifying and recognizing those who have served or are serving in the U.S. armed forces who were born in, reside in, or have previously resided for 10 years or more at any time in the city of Kenosha.
Lives of service
Bowker was drafted by the U.S. Army in July 1969 and served through January 1972. In Vietnam (1970-1971), he was stationed on two Navy ships, the USS Comet and SS Transglobe.
“Most of us guys in this group have been doing them (military funerals) for over 30 years,” said Bowker, who serves as the group’s treasurer. “We are the only ones in Kenosha who do it.”
Besides presenting the colors, the honor guard also plays taps and gives a gun salute.
“It honors the person for his military service,” Bowker said. “It’s giving him a final salute. We enjoy it. It comes from the heart. It means so much for the family.”
Don Martinelli became a U.S. Marine in March 1964 and served until June 1968. He served in Vietnam from October 1966 to June 1968.
“We’re veterans and we love each other,” Martinelli said. “Somebody’s got to be with these guys. If we can be there, we’ll be there. It means something to us, I guess. You’d be surprised how many people are happy to see us.”
Getting the call
Tim Green Sr. was drafted by the U.S. Army in May 1971. He served until April 1973 and was part of the U.S. base command unit, B Company supply in Fort Buckner in Okinawa. He now serves as captain of the Honor Guard.
Every week, Green is contacted by officials with the Veterans Cemeteries & Military Funeral Honors Program in Union Grove about recent deaths of veterans in Kenosha.
“They tell me when it’s going to be and I call the funeral homes and honor guard members,” Green said. “It’s a lot of work; a lot of people don’t realize it. We do it for our fallen brothers. This is their last salute.”
Bill Bredek was drafted by the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam from August 1969 to March 1970 for the 4th Infantry in the central highlands in Vietnam. Bredek said he went to Vietnam “a boy and came back a man.”
Bredek said war is not like “what you see on TV. People rely on you day in and day out.” That’s part of the reason he’s still committed to area veterans, serving with the honor guard for about six years.
“I wanted to be active with a veterans group,” Bredek said. “I enjoy doing it. We do it in any kind of weather,” Bredek said. “The summer is nice, but it doesn’t matter what type of weather.”
A team effort
Robert Marion served in the U.S. Navy from November 1968 to November 1972 and was on the USS Glover Escort Research Ship.
Marion calls the honor guard a team effort.
“We bond together. We’re all Vietnam vets, and we know what we went through,” Marion said.
n Lou Polovick served in the U.S. Navy from May 1969 to May 1973. He was in Vietnam from April 1970 to April 1971 and handled harbor security on a PB39 boat.
n Roy Beals was drafted by the U.S. Army in December 1966 and served through February 1969. He was a member of the 25th Infantry and 4th Infantry in Vietnam in 1968.
n Robert Brown became a U.S. Marine in August 1963 and served until August 1967. He was stationed at Okinawa for four months in 1965, served in Vietnam in 1966 at Chu Lai, Marble Mountain by Danang, and 11 months at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
n Charles Burmeister joined the National Guard in 1956, then he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1957 until 1961. He further joined the National Guard in 1976 until 1982. He went into the Air Force Reserves from 1985 to 1998.