Shining Star: Pat Kovacs

Pat Kovacs has a bit more experience with funerals than the average person.

Before he shipped out to Vietnam as a young man in 1966, one of his duties was to help provide military funerals for deceased veterans returning from the war-torn country.

“That was the hardest thing because we were burying a guy that was 18, 19 years old,” Kovacs said. “And guess what? You’re going where he’s coming from. You know, you’re thinking, 'that may be me.' We did that several days a week, so I got an early start with this.”

Now, at 70 years old, Kovacs has assisted in organizing hundreds of military funerals for fellow veterans. He’s a founding member of the Belmont County Veterans Association (BCVA), a longtime member of the American Legion Post 366 in his hometown of Flushing, a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2792 and a lifetime member of the Disabled Veterans of America Post 121, both in Barnesville.

In 2016 , Kovacs and his fellow BCVA members conducted 102 funerals for veterans in Belmont County and the surrounding area, pushing organization skills and dedication to service to the limit. Kovacs works with funeral directors, ministers, chaplains and of course, the veterans’ families, to make sure the deceased receive the military honors they’ve earned through service. These include special readings, Taps, the folding of the flag, a 21-gun salute and more.

“It is a salute to our comrade because this is the last meeting that he will have with anybody,” Kovacs said. “We’re sending him off to his grave with the military. It pleases us to do that for our fellow veterans.”

Without their work, many veterans won’t receive the proper burial. Kovacs also worked with the American Legion and the VFW to organize dozens of military funerals in 2016; the difference is BCVA is the only group that will conduct graveside funerals.

“We decided we needed to form our own group and offer graveside funerals,” said Bob Farmer, Kovacs’ friend and another founding member of BCVA. “We tell the families, it’s not about us, it’s about you.”

Families are not required to pay BCVA a cent for their services. With just 10 members, they provide everything out of their own pockets. Farmer said some families have insisted on giving them donations, which they pass on to Fisher House Foundation, a charity that provides homes for veterans’ families to stay while the veteran is receiving treatment at a nearby hospital.

“All this is done at no cost to the families because the veteran has already paid by serving,” Farmer said.

In addition to helping organize and put on up to four veterans’ funerals a week, Kovacs also volunteers his time as a speaker for Boys and Girls Scouts and local schools. He’s participated in flag education, school programs for Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Patriots Day, and according to Farmer, “just about anything asked.”

Kovacs takes pride in his time with the U.S. Army, and though he suffered a head wound from shrapnel during active duty as a combat engineer in Vietnam, he says he’d do it all over again.

“I took a squad through Vietnam and never lost a guy,” he said. “I’m fortunate and pretty proud I didn’t have a guy get killed.”

Now, Kovacs says it’s not easy to watch the funerals of his peers, and it sends a chill up his spine every time the 21-gun salute is made. However, he also says he’d do more if he could.

“I have no regrets in doing what I’m doing,” Kovacs said.

Veterans and civilians who are interested in helping to provide military funerals are welcome to inquire about joining BCVA.

Kovacs’ own brother Hutch, a member of the Sons of the American Legion, is one such civilian.

Additionally, anyone who would like a military funeral for their deceased family member can ask their local funeral director for help contacting the Kovacs, Farmer and BCVA.

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