BLAIRSVILLE — The Blairsville Military Service Group — the volunteer organization that performs honor guard ceremonies at dozens of funerals for area veterans each year — has honored Russell Quick, of Blairsville, with the organization’s first lifetime achievement award.
Quick, 71, is generally regarded as one of the county’s most recognizable military veterans and may be the vet with the longest continuous participation in local honor guard activities. Quick started helping out with honor guard ceremonies shortly after he enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in Blairsville as a high school senior in 1960.
Quick said the 24 members of the Blairsville Military Service Group (its three oldest participants are World War II vets) are veterans from all branches of the military and for many years they have been providing honor duties at about 30 veterans’ funerals annually.
During a 20-minute funeral ceremony the group offers brief readings and prayers, folds an American flag for presentation to the veteran’s next-of-kin, fires a volley from WW II-era M-1 Garrand rifles and plays taps.
Three empty ammunition casings from the rifles, representing duty, honor and country, are also presented to the veteran’s family.
Al Hogue Jr., commander of the group, said the unit was loosely assembled by the VFW post in Blairsville following WW II.
“It wasn’t really organized until 1997,” Hogue said, when the late John Zedick pulled local vets together and gave the organization more structure. Zedick was a Korean War veteran, mayor of Blairsville and was active in the town’s American Legion and VFW posts.
“John sparked it, and Russ was right there with him. Russ knew all the protocol,” Hogue said.
Quick also played a role in getting the honor guard group certified through training provided by the Department of Defense.
Quick said the group’s honor guard services are furnished at funerals around Indiana County, but the volunteers have traveled to neighboring counties and beyond, often with only a day or two notice and in weather ranging from 95 degrees to winter blizzards.
At some funerals, the deceased requested the group’s participation in advance. Quick said in some cases a veteran had seen the honor guard members at other funerals, and said, “When I pass on, I want that group to do my honor service.”
“That means a lot to us,” Quick said.
Quick served 33 years in the National Guard and for 12 1/2 years was the first sergeant, the highest-ranking non-commissioned officer, in the Blairsville Guard unit.
For two decades he was also a top competitor in the Guard’s M-16 combat rifle team and for several years competed and helped win team trophies at matches at active-duty Army bases.
Over the years Quick also became the Blairsville area’s military historian and the curator of a large collection of military uniforms, insignia and other memorabilia loaned by veterans or donated by deceased veterans’ relatives. The collection is displayed at the new National Guard armory in Torrance, Westmoreland County, just across the Conemaugh River from Blairsville.
The collection has grown to about 120 uniforms, and Quick knows the background stories of many of the local veterans who wore them.
Quick also for several years has helped organize Veterans Day parades and similar activities in Blairsville and is active in the VFW and American Legion posts in Blairsville.
Hogue said Quick’s many years of service to military veterans, living and deceased, highly qualify him for the Blairsville Military Service Group’s first lifetime achievement award, an honor Hogue hopes will be bestowed on other deserving individuals in the future.
PHOTO: Russell Quick, right, of Blairsville, received the Blairsville Military Service Group’s lifetime achievement award from Al Hogue Jr., the group’s commander.