Army veteran has attended 400+ funerals as member of American Legion Honor Guard

Hometown Heroes

OCONTO, Wis. (WFRV) The Army runs deep in Mel Mortier’s family. His dad served in World War I, and his two older brothers fought in World War II. He would follow in their footsteps once he was drafted in 1961 with the 1st Army Division. 

“We’d go out and practice out in the fields and shoot the mortar and everything like that,” he said.

After basic training, he’d be sent to Fort Hood, Texas. During that time, the Cuban Missile Crisis began to escalate. 

“The whole Army division was sent out towards Cuba,” he said. “The 1st Army Division did everything at night. We loaded all the equipment and did everything at night, we didn’t do anything during the daytime. Before we left, we had to write out our wills because we figured we wouldn’t be coming back.” 

Luckily, the situation was resolved before they got there. 

“We didn’t go all the way to Cuba. We just went to Georgia for awhile and then we went to Hollywood, Florida,” he said. 

Mel would go back to Texas where he was released after two years. He then spent a total of four years with the reserves before he was discharged.

Mel now spends a lot of his time with American Legion Post 74, where he’s a member of the Honor Guard – assisting with funerals as part of the Firing Squad.

“I say we average about 10 a year, and I’ve been in it now for 41 years so I think I’ve done over 400 funerals,” he said.

He gives back to the Oconto community in other ways too. He’s an avid blood donor, and also plants flowers with his wife at 200 graves every Memorial Day.

“Then we water them all year-long and make sure they look good,” he said.

Based on what he learned in the Army, he feels everyone should have to spend some time in the military. 

“I wish everybody would go in for at least six months,” he said. “People would learn to take orders. I didn’t know how to take orders until I got in there. It straightens everybody out.”

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