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Archive for Monday, May 30, 2005

Veteran hopes machine will preserve 21-gun salute

May 30, 2005

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— Bill Crabb thinks it's wrong that veterans should be buried without full military honors, including a rifle salute, if their families so desire.

But there's a relentless math that stalks those who served in America's armed forces. The number of veterans who are dying continues to rise. Meanwhile, conflicting time demands and dwindling membership in some veterans service organizations means there are fewer volunteers to fire the ceremonial volleys or play Taps.

The military turned to recorded music to solve one shortage.

Crabb thinks the metal and aluminum contraption he built out of scrap and carries in the back of his pickup could solve the other.

The 83-year-old Navy veteran soon hopes to patent his 21-gun-salute machine.

Crabb said he got the idea for his invention last Memorial Day when American Legion leaders in this small hamlet about 60 miles north of Kansas City couldn't muster enough volunteers to fire a salute to the veterans buried in the local cemetery.

"I said ... there's got to be a way to have a firing squad here," Crabb said. "They deserve it and they're going to get it."

The number of veteran deaths is expected to peak in 2006 at about 688,000, according to the Veterans Administration's Office of the Actuary. Of those projected deaths, about 374,000 will be World War II veterans. Federal law mandates that military funeral honors be rendered for any eligible veteran if requested by family.

At a minimum, at least two armed forces members perform a ceremony that includes the folding and presentation of the American flag to the next of kin and the playing of Taps.

With so few buglers available, the military a few years ago began to rely on a recorded version of Taps.

The law does not require a gun salute, although full military honors call for it.

In many states, local veterans service organizations stepped forward to provide that service.

"We're running into problems," said Mike Schlee of the American Legion. "The younger guys are working, so it's hard for them to get off during the day. The World War II guys are getting a little bit too old. And, I think it's probably depressing as hell burying all their comrades."

Crabb, a retired blacksmith and welder, doesn't want too much information released. He's afraid someone might steal his idea before he can get it patented.

On the day a reporter visited him, he was out of the .30 caliber blanks his invention requires. He will tell you that it has no springs or working mechanisms that might fail. It requires only one operator. He likes to be downwind from the grave site when he fires it because the report is so loud.

He became emotional as he talked about veterans not getting the recognition he believes they deserve.

"It just hurts to see people treated like they are. It just ain't right," he said, voice quivering. "Every veteran man or woman deserves the 21-gun salute."

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