The Camp Nelson Honor Guard, an all-volunteer group, has benefited from the kindness of strangers and the guard wants to show its appreciation.
Donations of money, time and materials have helped the honor guard renovate an 1880s house that overlooks Camp Nelson National Cemetery. Now it can be used as the unit's headquarters, complete with a library. Behind the headquarters is a new three-stall barn for the rescue horses used with a caisson at funerals for veterans.
"It is an acknowledgement from the communities of Lexington and Nicholasville that the honor guard is a great service," said Jeanne Struck Sheckels, a volunteer with the guard. "It is totally their arms wrapped around this organization."
To show that those donations were appreciated, and to show thanks for the generosity, the group is hosting an open house June 8 at the headquarters, 215 Christopher Lane in Nicholasville from 1 to 5 p.m.
The honor guard was created by Tracy Lucas in 2001 and is thought to be the only volunteer caisson honor guard in the country. There are caissons at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, but those are funded by the military.
At the family's request, Camp Nelson provides an honor guard with a 21-gun salute, a folded flag and polished shell casings to family members at the funeral. Also on request, the Department of Defense provides a two-person detail.
The Camp Nelson Honor Guard goes even further, providing a horse and caisson and cannon salute for all active duty personnel and veterans, not just officers.
Lucas wanted the veterans and service members to get the same honors at Camp Nelson without having to travel to Virginia or Texas, he said.
While they ask for an honorarium for that service, no one is ever turned away and no one is billed.
The headquarters has a new roof, flooring, windows and doors, underground utilities, a remodeled kitchen, and plumbing and electrical updates, said Patti Mason Friend, also a volunteer with the honor guard.
As I spoke with her, hammering was heard in the background as new shelving for the library was installed in the headquarters that was purchased in 2010.
The honor guard is a non-profit organization that operates solely with volunteers and donations.
Lucas takes time off from work without pay for the 275 to 300 funerals he attends each year, sometimes several in one day.
Friend said a lot of the costs for running the unit still come out of Lucas' pockets as well as those of volunteers.
"We still owe about $40,000 for the property and we have insurance to pay," she said. "We also need a pair of geldings that are trained to pull the caisson. We can't use mares. They just don't work out."
And they need volunteers willing to take part in the funerals.
But for now, the volunteers have far more gratitude than want in their hearts. Finally having their own place is overwhelming, Friend said.
"It means that we finally have a place where we can meet in one place," she said. "We can store the caisson, board our horses, and get equipment out of the rain. We can store our tack, harness and cannon within walking distance of the cemetery. That is what it means to us."
At the open house, Sheckels said the public can tour the facilities and learn about the funeral services they offer. Plus, families can Skype with servicemen or do research on loved ones.
"Tracy has been working on this since 2001," Sheckels said, "and he has done a lot of the work himself.
"It has been a burden on his heart to do this," she said. "He provides such an unbelievable service that is offered to any veteran. He doesn't discriminate by rank."
So, go see the newly renovated office and be sure to thank Lucas for answering the call to help honor our deceased service men and women and their families.
IF YOU GO
What: Open house for the renovated offices and barn for the Camp Nelson Honor Guard.
When: 1-5 p.m., June 8.
Where: Camp Nelson Honor Guard Headquarters, 215 Christopher Lane, Nicholasville.
For information or to donate or volunteer: Contact Tracy Lucas, (859) 420-5881, or visit the website at Campnelsonhonorguard.org.