JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
During a span of nearly 30 years, the Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment has provided full military honors at funeral services for thousands of deceased veterans and their families.
The detachment reached a significant milestone March 15 at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery when it set the mark of providing honors at 40,000 funerals.
Joe Lopez, a World War II veteran who passed away Jan. 17 at the age of 98, was the veteran honored that day, in a ceremony attended by his family.
The Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment is made up of volunteers – veterans and military retirees – who provide full military burial honors for other veterans and military retirees when military resources are not available.
“If it wasn’t for the Memorial Services Detachment, those veterans would be interred without military honors,” said Manny Mendoza, Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment commander. “It’s something that we, as veterans, feel needs to be done. If we have the time to give, then we do it.”
The detachment has 107 volunteers and is a nonprofit organization. Honors for services are conducted only at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
The voluntary honor guard is needed because, under a 1979 Department of Defense directive, the first priority for providing full military honors is for active duty and Medal of Honor recipients, Mendoza said.
Full military honors are only rendered for veterans and military retirees when military resources are available. Otherwise, the military provides two flag holders at funeral services.
The Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment, formed in 1991 by members of the Veterans of Greater San Antonio Area, renders full military honors, including rifle volleys, folding and presenting of the flag to the family, and the playing of “Taps” with a live bugler.
Today, the Memorial Services Detachment consists of five squads who render military honors at funerals five days a week.
Mendoza said the detachment averages eight to nine funerals a day and provides honors regardless of weather conditions. The detachment even rendered honors at funerals during the snowstorm in February.
He said the volunteers in the Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment are men and women who served their country for 20-plus years and were deployed or fought in conflicts, to include the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The average age of detachment members is 72, with the oldest member being 92 and the youngest being 41.
Mendoza said the volunteers want to continue their service to their country.
“It means everything to us, and that’s why we do it,” he said. “The families sacrifice just like we did when we were in the military. The families support us in what we do, and it’s just an honor, a dedication to duty for us. It’s an honor and a privilege to give the family the final tribute that every veteran should get.”
After the service marking 40,000 funerals that the detachment has rendered full military honors for, the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery staff members presented a plaque to Mendoza commemorating the event.
Aubrey David, Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery director, said the members of the detachment are patriots who provide selfless service to veterans and military retirees.
“I think to hit 40,000 services for honors rendered in less than 30 years just shows the dedication they have to continue serving veterans for our community,” David said. “For them to continue to do that, day in and day out, it’s inspiring and it’s very humbling.”