BANGOR, Maine — Shortly after Duane Lane graduated from Bangor High School in 1952, he put on a U.S. Army uniform and he joined a brotherhood that would forever be a part of his life.
Lane, 78, who died Feb. 20, was a pilot and served his country with distinction — earning a Legion of Merit award, a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart during his nearly three decades in uniform.
His brothers-in-arms returned to his side on Monday, as the Maine Army Guard’s Maine Military Funeral Honors Program soldiers fired off a 21-gun volley, ceremoniously folded the flag that adorned his casket and presented it to his family, and said farewell to the veteran with a final playing of taps.
“Perfection is our goal,” First Sgt. Harold Maker said Monday as the unit prepared to conduct its 9,000th ceremony. “We try to do exactly what they would do at Arlington National Cemetery.”
For the honor guard, it doesn’t matter what military branch the veteran served with, or if he or she served for three months or 30 years, said Maker, who serves with the 262nd Engineer Co. and is the honor guard’s non-commissioned officer in charge.
“They are going to get the same presentation of the colors — no matter if it’s for a private or a four-star general,” he said.
The Maine Military Funeral Honors Program is made up of between 25 and 30 Army Guard, and sometimes Air National Guard, personnel from all over the state who volunteer to serve with the honor guard. The unit was started a decade ago and has carried out its duty for all of Maine’s soldiers who have since been killed in action, and most of the funeral services for veterans of each branch of the military.
“The soldiers of the Maine Military Funeral Honors Program perform 100 percent of the military funerals for the Army veterans of Maine — the highest per capita performance level in the United States,” unit coordinator Frank R. Norwood said in a memo last week announcing the 9,000-funeral milestone.
“Each [active duty] branch takes care of their own, but we do all branches,” Maker said.
The unit performed 424 military funerals its first year, and is now averaging more than 1,300 services annually, Norwood said.
“These soldiers have gone from performing an average 35 services per month in [fiscal year 2004] to now performing an average of about 110 services per month,” he said, attributing the increase to the number of aging veterans in Maine.
No matter how many funerals the unit performs, the program’s only goal is to pay tribute and to show the nation’s gratitude to the men and women who “faithfully defended our country,” Maker said.
Maker and Sgt. Michael Quint of the honor guard folded the flag that draped Lane’s casket and then ceremoniously handed it over to Col. Hamilton Richards, brigade commander of the 120th Regional Support Group, who officially presented it to Lane’s daughters.
“Because he’s a retired colonel, you have to have someone with the equivalent or higher rank to present the flag,” Richards said, explaining his presence.
With more than 100 veteran’s funerals each month in Maine, the unit will probably reach the 10,000-funeral milestone late this year or early in 2014. Some of the soldiers in the honor guard unit that served at Lane’s funeral on Monday went on to do a second funeral later in the day.
After retiring from the military in 1980, Lane went on to be an assistant professor for business management at the University of Maine, Bangor, from 1982 to 1989, and was an instructor at Husson College from 1989 to 1996, his obituary states.
“We do this to honor each veteran after they served,” Maker said. “Every veteran is entitled to funeral arms, if he’s an honorably served veteran, whether it be Air Force, Army, Navy, National Guard, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines — they are all entitled to the same service.”