BUCKHANNON — Seventy years ago, a group of Upshur County men formed an honor guard to begin a Memorial Day Service at Mt. Union Cemetery — a tradition that continues to this day.
The honor guard began doing military funerals and funerals of veterans, providing a measure of respect and dignity to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice or served their country and returned home.
And through it all, James C. Kittle has been a constant. Now in his 90s, Kittle continues to come to the Mt. Union Cemetery for its Memorial Day Service.
He’s a constant presence — just like the traditional noon ceremony held on Memorial Day every single year since 1947.
A few years ago, the City of Buckhannon even proclaimed Jimmy Kittle Day. Larry Brown, commander of the VFW Post 3363, recognizes Kittle for his service every year.
“He helped start the honor guard in 1947, right here,” he said. “That’s a long time.”
A few years ago, Kittle even received a plaque for his dedication. The City of Buckhannon also proclaimed Jimmy Kittle Day.
And still, Kittle keeps coming. His steps are a little slower but his uniform remains crisp and his shoes shined and polished as he directs the honor guard to perform the 21-gun salute.
The others in the honor guard help him to his position before the service, provide a chair and then lead him to rest in the shade afterwards.
He is inundated with people after the service thanking him for his service and his continued dedication to the Memorial Day Service at Mt. Union.
Kittle worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and then for a baker in downtown Buckhannon and later for Reynold’s Transportation Company.
He served in the Army during World War II but other than a brief stint in Washington, D.C. — where he still came back for the Mt. Union Memorial Day Service — he has been in Buckhannon. He ended his career working for the VFW as a janitor before retiring for good.
Kittle said that during World War II, when soldiers were returned home for burial, they were accompanied by only one soldier — which did not allow for a proper military funeral with honor guard.
“Nine of us got together and started the honor guard,” he said. “Bus Simmons was the one that started it. He got us together. Then there was Junior Mackey, Bud Lewis, Carius Campbell, Hayse Baughman, Harry Hinkle, Earl Hawkins, Sherd Tenney.
“When someone dropped out, then someone else would take their place,” he said. “I’m the only one that didn’t drop out.”
“I think it’s important that we honor these guys that came home and the ones that just died to show them respect,” he said. “Some of the families don’t want it and some call us and want it. I think it’s an honor to do it. It shows our appreciation for the guys that went to war. I hope they don’t forget me when I die. There are a good bunch of guys that are in there now.”
Kittle said he would keep coming as long as he could.
“They have to help me,” he said of the honor guard.
Del. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, recognized the contributions of all veterans.
“I thank you for answering the call of duty,” he said. “Your community thanks you. You have made us all proud,” he said.
Brown thanked those in attendance at the Mt. Union Cemetery and reminded everyone of the reason the Upshur County Honor Guard continues to do its ceremony.
“If it wasn’t for them fighting for our freedom, we wouldn’t be out here today doing this,” he said. “Our comrades who are so important to us, they fought, died and some were wounded so we can stand here and shoot the breeze.”
A handful of people attended the Memorial Day Service at Heavener Cemetery.
Brown used the opportunity to promote the Flags for the Fallen Program. Flags may be purchased for $100. Brochures are available at the entrance to Heavener Cemetery, at the VFW or at city hall.
The goal is to line all the paved roadways in the cemetery with American flags to be displayed several times a year.