Rifle squad has appeared at more than 1,000 funerals
The Hutchinson Memorial Rifle Squad paying tribute at a veteran’s funeral. The squad has appeared at more than 1,000 funerals and many special events over the years.
The Hutchinson Memorial Rifle Squad (HMRS), organized in 1982, has served at more than 1,000 funerals and many, many special events including one wedding since its inception. Days like Memorial Day and Flag Day have special meaning to the squad and they take pride in honoring military veterans and the American Flag. “They are very dedicated and professional,” said Richard Hantge, an honorary member of HMRS and funeral director of the Dobratz-Hantge Funeral Home in Hutchinson. “They dress in uniform. They practice what they do so they are polished. Their 21-gun salute is right on.” Richard’s father and funeral director, Everett Hantge added, “They have three buglers, (Wally Pikal, Randy Dammann and Larry Roepke) and when they play the ‘echo’ it sends chills down your spine.”
The squad did funerals before 1982 as a VFW and Legion groups but became the HMRS as a result of a donation from the family of a veteran who died in 1982. A $500 check was given to post commanders John Klawitter and Jim Schaefer by Fred Lambert’s widow Gladys. The Lambert family requested the money be used to purchase whatever might be needed to form an organized unit to perform military rites.
Fred Lambert was born on Oct. 31, 1913 in Hutchinson and served in the Armed Forces during World War II in the South Pacific. He died July 4th (Independence Day) 1982 at the age of 68 years.
The ideas on how to best utilize the donation were kicked around, said the now deceased member, Jim Schaefer. After they decided to purchase uniforms, a 10-member squad was made. Named to that initial group were Chuck Burich, Sam Flom, Chuck Fors, Orlin Henke, John Klawitter, Dave Neubarth, Ken Reinke, Robert Rolander, and Jim Schaefer. John Klawitter and Larry Thompson have also passed away, bringing the number of original members to seven.
Membership of the HMRS has expanded into a second generation. Besides Everett Hantge and his two sons Richard and Robert, serving as honorary members, other second generation members are Eddie Homan Sr. (now deceased) and his son, Ed, Dee Koepp, who is coordinator and public relations person, and her daughter, Mara, Dave Neubarth and his son, Dan Neubarth. Of the thousand plus funerals in which the squad has performed, there are some that stand out in their minds. There was the funeral on the 18th hole of a golf course; two funerals at the same time in two different towns; a funeral where there was only two family members so the squad had to help as pallbearers as well; a funeral at Stewart when it is was -26º; a Memorial Day ceremony where the three buglers played triple taps at the same time; and two different funerals where one had a horse-drawn hearse and another with a motorcycle-drawn hearse.
The Hutchinson Memorial Rifle Squad with the original members sitting in the front row, from the left, Wally Pikal, Chaplain/Assistant Commander Robert Rolander, Commander Sam Flom, Dave Neubarth, Chuck Burich and Ron Swenson. Second row, Coordinator Dee Koepp, Ed Homan, Norb Mohs, Bill Baumann, Phil Trebelhorn, Larry Roepke and Assistant Coordinator Mara Koepp. Third row: Randy Damman, Assistant Quartermaster Jerry Tews, Assistant Commander Paul Doelger, Steve Brown, Leon Pesina and Quartermaster Spencer Beytien. Back row: Roger Mies, Larry Hoff, Dave Skoog, Marc Bailey and Duane Arndt.
Then there was the famous wedding. It was Mara Koepp’s (Dee’s daughter) wedding. The group surprised her by showing up at the wedding and being part of the wedding processional and giving a gun salute after the ceremony outside the church. “She was in tears,” said Dee. They did this because she was a member of the HMRS and is not something they normally do.
Officers of HMRS today are Sam Flom, commander; Robert Rolander, assistant commander and chaplain; Jerry Tews, assistant commander; Spencer Beytien, quartermaster; Paul Doelger, assistant quartermaster Dee Koepp, coordinator and public relations person and Mara Koepp, assistant coordinator.
“The family meets with us after the death of a veteran and we ask them if they would want a local military honor guard and if they say yes, we call Dee,” said Richard Hantge. “She will round-up as many HMRS members as she can. A lot of times it is short notice and they are on-call. They give up their Saturdays and Sundays and time with their families. They are out there in all kinds of weather. It is a service to their fallen veterans. They feel strong about that and is something they can give back. They know most of the fallen veterans. Some of them are members of the VFW and Legion. They will offer their service to any honorably discharged veteran, whether it is local or not. In all my years they have not said they cannot do it. It doesn’t matter if it is a weekend. It doesn’t matter. They’re going to make it. Kudos to their families too because they are giving up their weekends. They are all volunteers.”
“They always respond with professionalism and are caring and sensitive. These are three things that stand out to me,” said Everett Hantge. “Sensitive to the needs of the families they serve. We see that as they present the flag and the shell casings from the 21-gun salute to the family. We see that as being important to the task they do. We are very fortunate to have the Hutchinson Memorial Rifle Squad in our back yard.”