‘We should never quit serving’

Vietnam Veteran finds purpose in Honor Guard, volunteering
By 
Katherine Sears
Managing Editor
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
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Dean Martin plays the bugle in the Honor Guard at a past Memorial Day program. News-Argus file photo

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Dean Martin works in the Vietnam Landing Zone Sally tower while serving in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault, “Screaming Eagles), a light infantry division that specialized in air assault operations. Photo courtesy of Dean Martin

“Because they can’t,” is what Vietnam Veteran Dean Martin will say when asked about his service in the American Legion Post #16 Honor Guard. 

Martin, who came back from Vietnam in 1969, has been active with the Honor Guard for the past 10 years and became Commander after Tom Longshore stepped down from the position in 2021. As Commander, Martin ensures veterans, no matter their circumstances or branch of service, are recognized with military honors when laid to rest. 

“The Honor Guard is an offshoot of the American Legion,” said Martin. “We believe in giving honor to those who served.” 

As a veteran, Martin could dedicate his time to a number of different organizations, but chose the Honor Guard to show his appreciation for fellow service members. 

“I do it in part for them because they can’t,” said Martin. “I think of guys I went to high school with and guys I served in the Army with – they went to Vietnam because their country asked them to. They asked me to go too. I came home. They didn’t. We honor them for serving their country.” 

While his service in the military ended decades ago, Martin still finds himself serving in as many ways as he can. He says continuing to serve one’s community is just one attribute carried by many veterans. 

 

“Whenever I do something, I put in the time,” said Martin. “If you’re going to be involved in something, you need to be involved in it.” 

With those principles in mind, aside from organizing the Honor Guard for funerals, Martin volunteers with his wife at the Boys and Girls Club in Lewistown, is a senior warden at St. James Episcopal Church, serves as the vice chair of the Democratic Committee, and is a member of the VFW and American Legion. 

“We should never quit serving. There is always something we can do to make our community better,” said Martin. “It’s the one thing we can keep on giving.”  

Martin also believes it is important to connect young and old veterans alike, including in organizations like the Honor Guard.  

“Talking to younger veterans, it’s the same situation, just a younger group going through it,” Martin said of struggles they face. “A lot of older veterans go through things they wouldn’t share with everyone, but maybe would share with younger vets.” 

As generations become more removed from war, Martin said it’s important to continue honoring, and keep citizens aware, of those who have served.

“I think as our military becomes more voluntary, there are less and less people who know someone who died in war, and less and less people know someone who even serves in the military,” said Martin. 

Being active in the Honor Guard is one way to keep service members and non-service members connected. 

“Just about anybody can join the Honor Guard,” said Martin. “If you have a real calling and respect for people who have served, we could get you in touch with the proper organization.” 

Martin said those who qualify to join a military affiliate group, such as the American Legion Auxiliary, can join the Honor Guard. 

“What’s important is you’re treating it with the proper respect. It doesn’t matter if you served in the military or not,” said Martin. “We honor them for serving their country, we just don’t glorify it. War is a horrible thing that should be the last resort.” 

As Martin remains active in the Honor Guard over a half-century after his military service, he is far from forgetting those who no longer stand beside him. 

“I came back from Vietnam over 50 years ago, I’ve been in the Honor Guard for ten years, and sometimes when I play Taps at a funeral, I still cry,” said Martin. “The older I get, the weepier I get.”

 

A Veterans Day program will be held Friday, Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m. at the Lewistown Junior High. The program is open to the public.

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