Four members of the Marine Corps honor guard, from left, Andre Wood, Jim Reinhart, Loren Otto and Bert Plannette, present their rifles during a military funeral on Friday at the Eagle Point National Cemetery. They will appear again during Memorial Day ceremonies today.

Memorial Day: 'Ready. Aim. Fire!' And remember

Moving with snappy precision, former Marine Andre "Woody" Wood fires blanks in his M1 Garand as a member of an honor guard saluting a fallen veteran during a funeral at the Eagle Point National Cemetery.

But a keen eye will note the wires running from his torso to a large battery in his pants pocket.

"I'm running on batteries," acknowledges the former lance corporal, who got out of the corps in 1986.

Actually, he is on a waiting list for a heart transplant at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, the result of a deteriorating heart condition, he said.

But he shrugs it off, noting it won't stop him from what he considers a sacred duty as a member of the honor guard representing the Rogue Valley Detachment of the Marine Corps League. "These veterans served their time, served their country," Wood said. "The least we can do is honor them."

And Bert Plannette, 80, of Central Point, a retired Marine master sergeant putting the squad through its paces like a Marine Corps drill instructor hounding recruits, doesn't cut anyone any slack.

"Ready. Aim. Fire!" he barks.

With each salvo, the rifles sound as one. "Detail, 10-hut! Order arms! Present arms!" Plannette ordered.

For a moment, they stand stock still while taps is played by a local Oregon Army National Guard soldier in dress uniform. The mournful sound drifts gently over the knoll overlooking the scenic cemetery.

Overhead, the stars and stripes flutter at half-staff during the short ceremony.

"Forward march," said Plannette as they moved crisply away from the funeral.

"It's an honor to do this for someone," said Wood, 51, of Central Point, following the ceremony.

"I believe that everybody who served deserves a good send-off," he added. "It's only fitting."

Last year, the honor guard fired its rifles in salute at 25 funerals and an equal number of events, including the annual Boatnik Parade during Memorial Day weekend in Grants Pass and the Chinese New Year's Parade in Jacksonville.

Today it will be at the annual Memorial Day ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. at the Eagle Point National Cemetery.

"We want to honor all the local veterans who have passed away," said White City resident Jim Reinhart, 71, a former Marine corporal who served from 1960 until 1964 and joined the local detachment four years ago. He was previously with a similar group in Astoria.

"There are a lot of World War II, as well as Korean and Vietnam veterans, who are passing away now," said the retired pharmacist. "It's really important to us that we salute those individuals as they pass on."

That means all veterans, stressed Plannette, who retired in 1970 after 20 years of service.

"We don't limit it to Marine Corps veterans — we do this for everyone," he said. "It's an honor to provide this service to guys who have passed. We want them to be laid to rest with honor."

A former lance corporal, Loren Otto, 69, of Central Point, who served from 1961 to 1964, said the group practices to keep sharp.

"There was a relearning curve for all of us when we started marching again," he said. "We keep in shape."

Like his fellow honor guard members, the retired manufacturing engineer at Erickson Air-Crane is happy to offer the free service.

"I feel honored to participate," he said. "It's almost like a duty to me. We are also doing it so there will be someone to do it for us."

With the exception of Wood, the volunteers are mostly Vietnam or Korean war-era veterans. All have white or graying hair but, to a man, they've retained the fierce pride they bore in their uniformed youth.

"You never forget the basic rules," Wood said of marching. "We don't want to look sloppy. The Marine Corps gets in your blood."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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