DANVERS -- After getting into some minor scrapes with the law as a youth, Lyle Estes appeared before a judge who gave him two options: Go to jail or enlist in the military.
For Estes, the decision was simple, and he proudly served in the Army Air Corps/Air Force from 1947 to 1953.
But service to his country didn't stop there.
A resident of Danvers since 1957, he joined Louis E. Davis American Legion Post 56 in Bloomington and has been volunteering for duties ever since. On Jan. 1, though, he will officially retire from the Funeral Honor Guard, after participating in more than 1,140 ceremonies on the firing line.
"I know because I've kept track of them and marked them all down," he said.
Estes, 83, has had two strokes and admits that his memory is beginning to slip. Because of that he thinks it's time to slow down some.
Last month, Estes and other members of the Funeral Honor Guard were recognized at a special ceremony in Bloomington, by state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington. Members of the Funeral Honor Guard present the American flag to the deceased veteran's family and offer a gun salute.
"People might be surprised to know that in some towns, it is difficult to find Funeral Honor Guard volunteers when family members request the special ceremony," Brady said. "Everyone knows Lyle, and he has been such a great volunteer over the years. These guys spend money out of their own pocket for uniforms and equipment. We need more people like him."
His friends, such as Honor Guard commander Rick Ross, describe him as "a little bit ornery, but a tremendous man who has a lot of pride."
"He is very dedicated and is almost always one of the first guys there," Ross said. "You call him and he's there. And he always brings a peppermint candy for everyone in the Honor Guard."
Estes, who retired from General Electric after 35 years, admits to having a "tough life" as a youth, but settled down while being in the military. When he returned, he visited Bloomington with his cousin, who was dating a girl named Norma.
"I saw her and my cousin said 'What are you looking at?"' Estes said. "I said 'I'm looking at the girl I am going to marry.' He told me it was his girlfriend. So, a few months later, I met a girl and introduced them and they hit it off. So, it all worked out."
Estes and Norma will be married 61 years this month.
"There are so many things to be proud of," Estes said. "I'm going to miss the Funeral Honor Guard, though, because of what it means to the families. It is really touching to see how much the gun salute and the delivery of the flag mean. That never gets old."
Post 56 Commander Mike Moffitt said that Estes will be hard to replace.
"One year, we gave him a plaque because he had participated in 92 ceremonies in that particular year," he said. "He only missed a few. But he is very proud of his country and wants people to understand what our veterans have done for our country."
The Honor Guards in the area include members from the Bloomington's Legion Post 56, Carl S. Martin American Legion Post 635 in Normal and John H. Kraus Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 454 in Bloomington. There are currently about 60 active members.
Information from: The Pantagraph