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Olson: Paying ultimate respect to those who died in military service

Mike Holub, 66, of Berwyn shows members of the Rotary Club of DeKalb decorations from the uniform he wore as a member of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, where he participated in more than 150 funerals with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mike Holub, 66, of Berwyn shows members of the Rotary Club of DeKalb decorations from the uniform he wore as a member of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, where he participated in more than 150 funerals with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Michael Holub has been part of the most somber and serious ceremonies our country has for its fallen soldiers.

As a member of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, he has walked the 21 steps in front of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, where the inscription on a marble sarcophagus reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

The real legacy of his service is in the more than 300 funerals, including more than 150 with full military honors, that he has participated in at Arlington National Cemetery.

Holub, 66, of Berwyn, was drafted into the service as a college sophomore in 1972, and served until 1974, at one point becoming the honcho, or leader, of an eight-soldier casket team. Some of the funerals were for infantry-trained soldiers like him who had been killed in Vietnam.

“I did wind up burying a guy that I actually went to infantry school with,” Holub said.

Holub visited the Rotary Club of DeKalb’s meeting Monday to speak about his time with the Army’s honor guard. He was an engaging and at times lighthearted speaker, a far cry from the stone-faced persona he adopted in his official duties decades ago.

Holub participated in state funerals for President Harry Truman in December 1972 and President Lyndon Johnson in January 1973, and was part of the casket team that laid to rest Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren in July 1974. Warren, an Army lieutenant during World War I, was buried with full military honors.

The Old Guard is like the face of the Army. It is meticulous in attention to detail, and movements in ceremonial functions are rigid and stylized.

As we’re all called upon to do for Memorial Day, the job of the Old Guard often is to honor fallen service members.

Time and again, as part of the casket team, Holub folded the American flag over open graves, while taps played and a firing party fired three rounds in succession.

As honcho, he would hand the folded flag to a chaplain or commanding officer, who would present it to the soldier’s next of kin, while saying something such as, “On behalf of the president of the United States and a grateful nation, we thank you for your family member’s service.”

Soldiers had to find a way to cope with the scenes they witnessed, Holub said.

“For us, the way to do it was the constant reminder of the high honor that we were able to give to the families and the trust of the U.S. government in us to render that honor,” Holub said. “I think you learned a lot of respect for that.”

Holub said the skills and discipline he learned as the face of the Army in the Old Guard helped him later in life, where he went on to a 40-year career in law enforcement, retiring after 12 years as La Grange’s police chief in 2014. He stayed in shape, kept his uniform impeccably prepared and cleaned and his shoes and brass shined. He showed up on time.

Few can honor the fallen as Holub once did.

But we all should do what we can to remember them on Memorial Day, Holub said.  

“Please realize that this is based on people who made the ultimate sacrifice for us to continue to live as we do,” he said.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle, another Shaw Media publication. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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