Military Coalition conducting 500th service at funeral Tuesday

From Staff Reports

Oct. 13, 2008 - A group of devoted veterans who ensure their comrades in arms get a fitting farewell will mark a significant milestone on Tuesday.

That's when the Hopkins County Military Coalition will conduct military graveside services for the 500th time in its 10-year history.

The coalition, made up solely of volunteers with military service records, will hold the services during the funeral of Jessie Melvin Hooten, 68, who served with the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1961. Funeral services will be held at the Tapp Funeral Home Chapel at 3 p.m., with burial following in Posey Cemetery.

Military cutbacks in the 1990s, amond other issues, reduced the armed forces' capability of continuing the time-honored tradition of military ceremonies provided at funerals of veterans across the country.

"Veteran groups like the American Legion and The Veterans of Foreign Wars were approached to consider performing the final tributes where active-duty funeral service ceremonies were unavailable," according to Art Romanat, a member of the Hopkins County Military Coalition. "It was mutually decided to form military coalitions at county levels to provide ceremonial honors as needed and where possible."

In December of 1998, Dick Nestor, Dave Hillsamer, Ray Bell, James 'Bear' Hawkins, Joe Minter and Frank Pope, among others, took on the task of organizing the Hopkins County Military Coalition, made up of members of American Legion Post 642, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8560 and American Legion Post 66, all from Sulphur Springs.

They started out with 15 members and could only conduct on funeral at a time. Today, with some 30 members of the coalition, they can perform as many as three funerals in a day if necessary -- and there have been days when they were called to do so.

Coalition members also distribute U.S. flag books every year to all sixth grade students in Hopkins County, and take part in patriotic functions at local schools and other community events. Their other duties range from flag folding ceremonies and color guard presentations to speaking at business and civic group meetings.

The coalition is all-volunteer, and no taxpayer money is used to support the group in any way. Instead, funding comes from individuals, families and businesses pay for the upkeep of equipment and other expenses.

Anyone wishing to help the coalition can send donations through the Hopkins County Veteran Services Officer at P.O. Box 371, Sulphur Springs, Texas 75483. The Hopkins County Military Coalition meets the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8560 building.

"If you are an honorably discharged veteran from any of our military services, we invite you to join us and help us continue to serve our fallen veterans," Romanat says.

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