Indiana Guard Ceremonial Unit honors one of its own
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, s[email protected]
The horse-drawn caisson left the parking lot of Dillman-Green Funeral Home in Marengo following the Feb. 27 funeral service for native son Danny Sloan. A drummer, color guard and the honor guard led the procession through the four-way and to Marengo Cemetery, up the hill where Sloan was to be laid to rest beside his wife, Suzanne, who passed away in 2014. Sloan, 72, died Feb. 18. He was a resident of Seymour.
His ceremony was a step above the military funeral most citizens are accustomed to seeing.
While Sloan was career military, serving at Camp Atterbury and achieving the rank of chief warrant officer, that wasn’t why he was afforded the higher honor.
“He was one of the original members of the ceremonial unit,” said Guard member Nicholas Wall, one of those participating in Saturday afternoon’s procession. “All of those members get the full service. … It adds the caisson and drum. It’s a larger presence.”
Wall said the Indiana National Guard Ceremonial Unit traces its beginnings to the early 1970s. It came about as the result of a Guard member’s funeral at which military honors were performed incorrectly.
Col. Wyatt Cole didn’t want that to happen again. He took his concerns to Indiana’s adjutant general who agreed to having the Indiana Guard form a ceremonial unit to conduct honors for deceased members.
A team consisting of between six and 12 Guard members was formed. They spent two weeks training at Arlington National Cemetery, learning the particulars of each section of the procession.
Indiana is unique among the 50 states for its ties to Arlington.
“We’re the only recognized sister unit to Arlington,” said Wall. “We are the only state that does the special honors as they do in Arlington. Danny helped get all that off the ground.”
The unit was officially established in 1974 and was the first ceremonial unit of its kind in any state.
After the original members received their training in D.C., they returned to Indiana where they trained local soldiers and obtained all the needed equipment. That includes the caisson, a wooden wagon used in early wars to carry ammunition. The caisson used by the ceremonial unit is from the Civil War era and was found on an Indiana farm.
A big part of the ceremonial unit are the draft horses, which are stabled in Columbus. Saturday, Atlas led the procession with Sam and Pete pulling the caisson. Rex was the riderless horse. Rex carried a saddle and a backward boot on each side, signifying Sloan was on his last ride and would never ride again.
The group is known as the Military Department of Indiana Ceremonial Unit Mounted Color Guard Caisson Platoon.
There are eight teams of the ceremonial unit, including the color guard, music section, caisson platoon, casket and firing party. Members each choose three teams to learn and train throughout the year and prior to a funeral or other performance.
Military funerals differ depending on the veteran’s branch of service.
Walls said by law each veteran is entitled to a flag-draped casket and the playing of taps at the grave site. The branches then each have their own criteria for other honors.
The National Guard has three levels with honors accorded, depending on rank and position.
The highest honors include a full band and the firing of cannons.
Walls said Guard members from throughout the state volunteer their time for each military funeral in which the unit is asked to participate.
The unit also performs in parades and at civic events such as the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Colts and Pacers games.
Saturday was the first full honors funeral the unit has performed in nearly a year, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Walls said participating in the ceremonial unit is a way of giving back.
“Seeing the sacrifices they made makes it worth paying respect,” he said. “(Sloan) gave 30 years to the military. How could you not want to take time to honor him?”
Walls noted while there are millions of American military veterans, they compose a very small percentage of the general population.
“Less than 1% serve,” he said. “It’s a really small minority.”
Walls said the ceremonial unit has one full-time paid position. That role is for coordinator.
“All the others volunteer,” he said, noting performing the funerals means additional time away from their families.
That additional time and effort, however, is well worth it, Walls said.
“We love doing it or we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It’s an honor for anyone, especially when it is one of your own.”