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VFW Honor Guard continues tradition

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
Above, some of the Hays V.F.W. Post 9076 Honor Guard who were part of the veteran detail on hand Saturday morning for the graveside service at St. Joseph Cemetery of veteran LeRoy L. Herrman.

What separates Hays V.F.W. Post 9076 from others at funerals for veterans is not just the playing of taps on a bugle, but also the singing of taps.

Jim Dinkel, a military policeman in the Army from 1968 to 1970, served in Korea. Dinkel continued his service as a member of the post’s Honor Guard, singing taps at veterans’ funerals for about the last 10 years.

Dinkel, 71, died last Sunday, and was buried in his Honor Guard uniform on Wednesday.

The person who has filled in singing taps for Dinkel was unavailable, so Honor Guard member Kathy Schupman sang taps at Dinkel’s service.

“I did the worst job of my whole life of singing,” Schupman said. “The reason was because I was so choked up. Father Earl Befort said after I got done, ‘Well, that was pretty good, but not as good as Jim did it.’ And everybody laughed; I was laughing.”

Dinkel’s service was the first time Schupman sang for the Honor Guard. She expected to sing again Saturday for Leroy Herrman’s service.

“I’m just carrying on for Jim at this time,” Schupman said.

Schupman is the only female member of the Honor Guard, which currently has about 16 to 20 members.

“I’m just really close to the guys,” Schupman said. “I felt the calling.”

Schupman, 48, said she hopes more younger veterans answer the call to join the Honor Guard.

“I hope, as time goes on, that more people of my age (join), we need more people of my age bracket,” she said.

Merle R. McLaren, who served in the Air Force for more than 20 years, and was in Korea and Vietnam, has been part of the Honor Guard for about 40 years. He also sees the need for younger veterans joining.

“We’re dwindling a little bit,” he said, adding it is when a veteran gets older that the calling is heard. “Usually, these kind of people in middle age, they remember something that is missing, and that is when they like to join.”

Dinkel will be remembered by his fellow Honor Guard members.

“A fine gentleman, in the true sense of the word,” McLaren said.

Schupman, who served in the Army from 1990 to 1998, and was in Desert Storm, said Dinkel was “just such a nice person, just so kind.”

Stan Dreiling, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, is the post chaplain. He has been part of the Honor Guard since 1972 and has been to more than 1,400 funerals for veterans.

“(Dinkel) was a person that you always could count on if there was a funeral for a veteran,” Dreiling said. “He was a great veteran. He believed in service to his country, and his community.”

Dinkel’s singing of taps added to the solemn occasion. It was not just the bugle playing taps. Not just the flag and the prayers and 21-gun salute.

“We’re the only veteran funeral detail in the state that sings taps,” Dreiling said. “Most people don’t know taps has words to it.”

Schupman said the last of four verses is sung:

“Thanks and praise for our days. ’Neath the sun, ’neath the stars, ’neath the sky, as we go, this we know, God is nigh.”

Schupman said nobody did it better than Dinkel.

“Jim just sang it phenomenally, he really did,” Schupman said. “It’s just really moving for people, especially veterans. It just brings closure. It is the best way to give reverence to that person’s life.”

Schupman said when she first started out in the Honor Guard she was told by her fellow members she should keep a program for the service. It’s just something Honor Guard members do, to remember those no longer here.

“That’s something the public’s not aware of,” Schupman said. “These guys don’t go and just forget about it. They carry a little piece of each one. They have a record of every single one.”

The singing of taps is special, McLaren said.

“It is a nice touch,” he said, “because people get to hear what taps really means.”