BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — Jerry Monical’s service to his country isn’t limited to the time he spent in the Army in Germany in the 1950s.

It’s the time he’s spend in Central Illinois cemeteries, schools, long-term care facilities, at community events and on the steps of the McLean County Museum of History during the past 18 years.

Monical is a member of the Honor-Color Guard of American Legion Carl S. Martin Post 635 in Normal and Louis E. Davis Post 56 in Bloomington. The honor guard conducts military rites at veterans’ funerals and color guard presentations at school and community events, including for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

The honor guard honored those who have served with a ceremony on Wednesday on the east steps of the museum.

Monical was among honor guard members there but it’s not because he seeks attention.

“I joined because it’s an organization that serves the country,” he said of the American Legion and the honor guard. “It’s a camaraderie among people who are veterans.”

“The stereotype that some people have (of veterans’ groups) is we’re good old boys getting drunk. We don’t even have alcohol at Post 635,” Monical said of the post of which he is a member.

But Monical has been more than a member of the honor guard. From spring 2008 until earlier this year, he was the honor guard commander.

“I had to step down for health reasons,” said Monical, 84, of Carlock. “But I’m still a part of it.”

The honor guard recently presented Monical with a plaque for his years of leadership, which saluted his participation in nearly 1,100 military rites at veterans’ funerals.

“I was really pleased but very humbled by it,” Monical said Tuesday. “They are a great team. I enjoyed my years as commander. I was more of a coordinator than a commander. I just wanted to be like the old soldier and fade away but they (other honor guard members) said ‘You’re not going to fade away.’”

“Jerry is one of the most thoughtful and caring gentlemen I have ever met,” said Jerry Vogler, superintendent of the McLean County Veterans Assistance Commission and also a member of the honor guard and Post 635 adjutant.

“He’s a great listener to try to come up with solutions that work and are acceptable to the vast majority of people,” Vogler said. “When he disagrees with you, he does it in a gentlemanly manner.”

“And he’s proud of his service,” Vogler said.

Monical grew up in Normal. He and his three brothers — Dwayne, Dana and Larry — all served in the Army.

“We learned from our father,” who, even though he was too old to be drafted, tried to enlist in the Army during World War II but was turned down because of health reasons, Monical said.

Monical served in the Army from 1954 to 1958 and spent 2½ of those years in Germany. He was in the Seventh Army’s ordnance corps, supplying artillery and other equipment.

“We knew we would be targeted in a bombing attack,” Monical said.

“There was always the threat of a Russian invasion and I’m sure that would have happened if we weren’t there,” Monical said. “We were 20 minutes from an air attack and two hours from a ground attack. It was pretty tense. More tense than the general population realized.”

At least once a month, there was an alert and defenses were set up but the attack never came, he said.

“I did enjoy my time in Germany,” said Monical, who was a Specialist Fourth Class, which he said was equivalent to a corporal. “To me, it was gratification. We were doing a job that was necessary.”

After Monical was honorably discharged in 1958, he returned to Bloomington-Normal and, in 1960, began a 40-year career at The Pantagraph, working in the composing room, assembling ads and the articles.

He and his wife Phyllis have been married for 58 years, they have a daughter Tami, a son Lee and five grandchildren.

Monical said the honor guard, which he joined in 2002, has averaged 91 funerals a year for the past 10 years but numbers are down this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When state guidelines went into effect in March limiting the number of people who could gather in public, the honor guard suspended its military rites at veterans funerals, Vogler said. They resumed during summer and included a communal service. Even so, the veterans, during funerals, try to remain six feet from each other, wear their masks when they present the flag to the next of kin and try to avoid mingling with family members, Vogler said.

Even with the suspension, the honor guard already has done 67 military rites this year, Monical said.

Monical thinks Veterans Day is important because it keeps veterans “fresh in the minds of the public.”

“We feel it’s really important for people to see a veteran,” Monical said. “It presents a positive image.”

“On Veterans Day, it’s good for people to pause awhile and think about what veterans have done and continue to do, which is to protect our country and our interests,” he said.

“When you see a veteran, thank them for their service,” Monical said. “It seems trite but I think the veterans appreciate it.”

Vogler said “People serve because they think this country and what it stands for is worth serving. Our country isn’t perfect but it’s worth serving and saving.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/36r6Arp