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Soldiers, veterans pay tribute to their own
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
On April 24, a dreary cold day, Lt. Col. Robert J. McNicholas, U.S. Marine Corps, retired, was laid to rest in Sequim View Cemetery.
The burial was attended by friends and members of his family, who together gathered under the green tent.
Standing in the drizzle were three dozen or so of McNicholas’ comrades-in-arms, there to pay their last respects.
Because of McNicholas’ high rank, a Marine Honor Guard from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was on hand to provide a rifle salute and to play taps.
The veterans in attendance were local volunteers who are essentially on call for these services.
That includes members of Sequim VFW Post 4760 and the Korean War Veterans Association, Olympic Peninsula, Chapter 310.
A contingent of Patriot Guard Riders, decked out in black leather, stood in ranks while holding a half-dozen American flags.
Ruth, Robert’s wife of nearly 60 years, said she was pleased to see the soldiers, both active-duty and veterans.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “Quite an experience.”
The tributes were arranged by Ruth and Bob’s son, Mark McNicholas, who served in the Marines for eight years.
“He knew all about it,” Ruth said. Mark called the VFW, the Marines and the Patriot Guard Riders.
Ruth said because her husband had retired from the Marines in 1968, many of his friends weren’t aware of his 21 years in the service.
That included overseas duty in China, Guam, Japan, Korea and Okinawa.
McNicholas was involved in the early testing and development of guided missiles in the Corps and commanded the first guided-missile battery. That duty took full advantage of McNicholas’ training — he went first to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then attended Tufts College where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, magna cum laude, before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
McNicholas also earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Arts in economics from the University of Maryland.
For his service he received the Navy Commendation Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
‘Paying our respects’
Dale Butler, chaplain of VFW Post 4760, helped arrange the gathering of the veterans. He says the veterans — both men and women — are always available to honor fallen soldiers.
In addition to members of the Sequim VFW, that often includes members of the American Legion and the Marine Corps League.
In years past, Butler said, the veterans provided the honors, “private to general.” Now, he said, there always are at least two uniformed soldiers or sailors on hand.
The Marines drive down from Whidbey, the sailors up from Naval Base Kitsap. The Army funerals usually are attended by soldiers from Camp Murray; the Air Force from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Coast Guard sends its representatives from the base in Port Angeles.
Butler said having the soldiers conduct the honors constitutes a big improvement. “They’re dedicated pros,” he said. “You call them, they’re here.”
The honors include the folding of a U.S. flag, which is then presented to the widow or another family member. The servicemen or servicewomen also deliver a message on behalf of the President of the United States — an expression of the gratitude of the American people.
A reporter’s question to a member of the Marine Honor Guard before McNicholas’ funeral was cordially, but briefly, answered. “No names,” he said. “Just say we delivered the appropriate honors. We don’t want any attention paid to us.”
Butler said the same ethos extends to the veterans who are on hand. “People ask, ‘What does it cost?’”
“Nothing,” Butler said.
He said on one occasion a grateful family member stuck $20 in his pocket. Butler said he donated the cash to a worthy cause.
“We’re just there to show our respect,” he said.
Many of the veterans also participate in a monthly bell-ringing to memorialize recently deceased veterans. The ceremony is held at 1 p.m. the last Friday of each month at Liberty Park on Lincoln Street in Port Angeles.
Butler added that veterans from the Sequim VFW and the American Legion will return to Sequim View Cemetery for a service at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28. After the ceremony at Sequim View they will travel to cemeteries throughout the area.
Funeral directors can provide more information about the official honors. To request the presence of veterans, call Dale Butler at 360-207-0198.