DANVILLE — It was 98 degrees during the graveside service, and Rich Darby was soaking wet.
He looked at the honor guard, made up of American Legion members — some in their 80s — but they didn’t flinch. They stood straight, their faces solemn under the summer sun.
That’s when Darby, co-owner of Sunset Funeral Homes, realized he had to do something to help the veterans give their comrades a final farewell.
“This is a local grassroots campaign from our family and staff,” he said, describing the new program, Operation Honor Guard. “We want to put as many boots on the ground as we can to help these guys out.”
When a veteran dies, the Honor Guard steps forward to help give the fallen soldier a dignified, respectful farewell. The volunteers perform military rites at the funeral, serving in all weather conditions, any time of day and without compensation.
In partnership with the Legions, Sunset staff and the Darby family will be collecting money at certain times and places through Nov. 1. That money will be disbursed to local American Legion posts so the veterans can buy uniforms, rifles, raincoats, flags, ammunition and fuel.
The fundraising will take place in towns where Sunset has funeral homes in Vermilion and Champaign counties and Fountain County, Indiana. The first one was held Friday in Covington, Ind.
Friday, Oct. 4, 7:30-9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the squares in Georgetown and Westville.
Friday, Oct. 11, 7:30-9 a.m., and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Casey’s General Store, Oakwood.
Friday, Oct. 18, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., County Market, 1819 Philo Road, Urbana.
Friday, Nov. 1, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Walmart, Danville.
“I think it’s going to be great,” said Tom Morse, commander of the Curtis G. Redden American Legion Post 210. “What Rich is doing for us … we can’t begin to express our thanks. Hopefully, it will be a good fundraiser and keep us afloat.”