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Day is done: Veteran Harvey Helms remembered for service to honor guard

The Southern Illinoisan - 1/25/2020

Jan. 25--HERRIN -- The Marines are "always faithful." The Coastguard is "always ready." The U.S. Navy is "always strong." If there were a motto to describe the late Harvey "Sarge" Helms, it might be "always there."

According to friends and fellow veterans and ritual team members, Helms was always there for honor guard duties at the funerals of veterans, or just to help someone.

When Helms died earlier this month, an honor guard of 19 or 20 members attended his funeral from the combined honor guard ritual team of Herrin American Legion Post 645 and Carterville American Legion Post 347.

"I don't know if that's ever happened before in Southern Illinois," Dan Finke, a veteran and member of the ritual team, said.

Finke calls the combined honor guard "the best honor guard in Southern Illinois," and part of the credit for that belongs to Helms. That's why so many members showed up to serve at his funeral.

Ed Smith of Carterville said the group included 14 from Carterville and six from Herrin.

James Dunfee said Helms probably served on the ritual team during most of the time he was a member of Herrin Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, and he was a member of both for 40 years.

"He's been our commander. He dictates what is happening when and gives commands for the chaplain to pray, for the bugler, and firing the gun volley," Smith said.

None of the men know exactly when Helms became a part of the ritual team, but they agreed he'd been doing it a long time, following the late Sam Garnati as commander.


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Finke and Smith talked about the struggle most veteran groups have getting enough members to provide an honor guard ritual team for the funerals of all veterans.

"Neither one of the posts, on a normal weekday, would basically be able to put together an entire team," Smith said. "Herrin has more members, but not many want to get involved in the honor guard. It takes 11 or 12 people."

That is seven to fire rifles, one bugler, two flag bearers, a chaplain and a team commander.

Ritual teams spend a lot of time waiting for the funeral procession to get to the cemetery. Dunfee said that used to get Helms in a little trouble, because Helms would tell jokes to lighten the mood a little.

"He used to write jokes for Reader's Digest. I don't know if he ever had one published," Dunfee said.

Helms also served by just being there when people needed a little help.

"He would help anybody. If you needed something, he was there," Dunfee said. "He just loved people. He didn't ask anything in return."

Dunfee added that he would pick someone up at the hospital or take them to appointments. He filled the needs he saw.

"He was a one-of-a-kind man who was always there to help other veterans," Smith said. "He will definitely be missed by those of us who were fortunate enough to know him."

Helms spent six years in the Army, then transferred to the Air Force. He spent the rest of his career in the Air Force, and returned to his hometown of Herrin when he retired. He was a life member of both the VFW and American Legion.

"We miss him down here at the VFW. Sarge was one of a kind," Dunfee said, using Helms' nickname. "We've had four or five funerals. It's not the same without him out there."



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