WASHINGTON – The all-volunteer rifle squad that George J. Weiss Jr. started three decades ago has delivered the final salute at more than 56,400 military burials.
Weiss, a World War II veteran, has made it his mission to provide military honors to deceased veterans at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.
President Barack Obama today will recognize him and 12 other people with the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest honor that can be conferred on an American civilian.
Weiss’ desire to start the volunteer rifle squad came after a friend died in 1977 and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post couldn’t provide the military honors at the burial. He pledged to start a memorial squad after he retired. And when he ended his 30-year career as a utility repairman with Ford Motor Co., Weiss formed a memorial squad of six people. Today, it’s comprised of 130 men.
“We don’t know 99 percent of the people we’re burying – they’re strangers,” Weiss said. “But still, we’ve all been in the military, and we try to take care of each other.”
This year’s Citizens Medal winners have helped the poor and advocated for deaf children. One honoree is focused on conservation, while another helps young pregnant women with education. They also include a Colombian immigrant who regularly feeds about 130 people, and a 9/11 widow who has reached out to help widows in Afghanistan.
The other 2010 Citizens Medal recipients are: Daisy Brooks, of Chicago; Betty Chinn, of Eureka, Calif.; Roberta Diaz Brinton, of Los Angeles; Cynthia Church, of Wilmington, Del.; Mary K. Hoodhood, of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Kimberly McGuiness, of Cave Spring, Ga.; Jorge Muniz, of New York; Lisa Nigro, of Chicago; Mary Ann Phillips, of Star Valley Ranch, Wyo.; Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam, of Shaftsbury, Vt.; Susan Retik, of Needham, Mass.; and Myrtle Faye Rumph, of Inglewood, Calif.