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Local firefighters form Honor Guard for funerals
By ANNA BROWN
Firefighter Horace Vernon "Demo" Morris was only 38 when his life was forever altered.
Morris was riding on back of a City of Union fire truck en route to a call at Henderson's Trailer Park on July 28, 1972. On West Main Street at Jail Hill driver Gary Owens applied the brakes to make a turn onto South Boyce Street. The brakes locked, the fire truck skidded and struck a tree and cement steps. Morris was thrown off. He suffered multiple injuries, including broken bones and a fractured skull. He spent months recovering and was permanently disabled.
The fire? It turned out to be a false alarm.
Morris died on Aug. 13. The Union County Firefighters Association Honor Guard participated at his funeral, including wearing their new uniforms for the first time.
"Demo pretty much gave his life in 1972," Honor Guard coordinator J.D. McCarley said. "He was never able to do what everybody else could do. When something happens, we want to send that person out in a way we felt was deserving. Everyone on the Honor Guard has their heart in the right place and we wanted the family to know it."
Honor Guard member Harrell Bright said Morris' funeral could be considered the first funeral the guard had participated in for a firefighter who had died in the line of duty.
"He got hurt that day and never recovered and what happened to him happened in the line of duty," Bright said. "To this day, he was still a firefighter."
"It was very Godly timing," said Morris' daughter, Charlotte. "My Daddy died when I was 9, but he was still here and I still loved him. He was my daddy. He was here all these years, just a different person. You accepted it and moved on and did the best you could."
McCarley, a Bonham firefighter, staff sergeant with the Air National Guard and regional supervisor over Region II with the South Carolina Fire Academy, said local firefighters and police officers had discussed forming an honor guard for many years. He, Santuc Fire Chief Mark Wade and Lockhart Fire Chief Lee Brannon considered how many aging firefighters Union County had who had contributed much to the fire service and decided in January 2014 to get serious about forming a guard. They asked other fire chiefs to submit the names of firefighters from their respective departments. They wanted to make sure the Honor Guard mirrored the community, with both black and white members and male and female members. There are currently 19 members, with around five more in the tryout stage.
A name was chosen - the Union County Firefighters Association Honor Guard. After months of planning a uniform was chosen - navy blue with a double-breasted coat, two gold bands on the coat sleeve and a bell cap. Some setbacks were experienced with uniform providers and the hat was back-ordered.
A badge was chosen and Kacie Faulks designed the patch.
The Honor Guard met for drills on saluting, flag folding and marching. McCarley said it helped that many of the members had law enforcement or military experience.
Before the honor guard could be fully outfitted, the firefighting community in Union experienced several deaths. Honor guards were used at their funerals but firefighters wore uniforms from their individual departments, including those for Hayes Vaughan, retired Lockhart chief; Mark Childers, an active Lockhart firefighter; Harry Helms, a former Bonham firefighter; Judy Gill, a Buffalo firefighter who was one of the first female firefighters in Union County and the wife of Honor Guard member Charlie Gill; and Tommy Haney, a Kelly-Kelton firefighter who was set to be the chaplain of the Honor Guard - the liaison between the guard and family members of the deceased firefighter.
The Honor Guard is accepting donations. Uniforms cost around $505 each. Equipment is needed, such as axes. For Morris' funeral, York County allowed Union County to use a trailer full of equipment, including steps that made it easier to load Morris' casket onto the back of a Monarch Fire Department truck.
"We have gotten so much support from EMS, the sheriff's office, the city, all local departments and the rescue squad," McCarley said. "Ronnie Lybrand has been our bugler. Holcombe Funeral Home - every time we have dealt with them they have come out and walked us through. They donated a flag for us to use in training. 911 has helped us with the last call. Usually it's Rob Fraim (Union County Emergency Preparedness director and an Honor Guard member.)
The last call for Morris came over a radio held by Bonham Fire Chief Scott Austin.
"Horace Morris, Union," Fraim called out several times.
"There is no response from Horace Morris," Fraim said. "It is with deep sorrow and sadness to notify you that Horace Morris has completed his last call and has returned home safety to eternity for his final call to watch over his family friends and fellow firefighters. Thank you for your 12 years of service with Monarch and the City of Union fire departments."
(Anyone wanting to make a donation to the Union County Firefighters Association Honor Guard may contact J.D. McCarley at 426-6036.)
(Posted August 24, 2015)