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August 23rd, 2019

tomb of the unknownChuck and Connie Bowman, right, and Mike and Kelly Hornung take part in a ceremony placing a wreath made locally on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Courtesy photoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


A piece of Liberal now resides in the nation’s capital at one of Washington D.C.’s more famous monuments to honor local veterans.

Chuck Bowman, director of Liberal’s Brenneman Funeral Home and president of the National Funeral Directors Association, recently had the honor of having a wreath representing local soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

Bowman’s daughter, Kelly Hornung, who co-owns the funeral home with her husband, Mike, described what happened in early April as the local group brought the wreath down to the tomb.

“The four of us came down the stairs, and we presented the wreath,” she said. “The soldier helps you take the wreath up, place it, and you step back and they play ‘Taps.’”

Hornung said having the wreath at the tomb is a huge honor for veterans in the Liberal area.

“It’s part of Dad’s role at NFDA,” she said. “We just wanted people to know it was there for the veterans.”

Bowman said he had seen similar events to the one he and the Liberal group took part in last month.

“Other presidents have placed wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he said. “I was asked if I wanted to do that, if that’s something I wanted to happen. I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Bowman’s father and father-in-law served in World War II, and his daughter, April Bowman, has served in the Air Force for 17 years. This is just part of Chuck’s connection to the military.

“I have personally buried 25 killed in action during this Iraqi freedom,” he said. “My father-in-law was on a B-24, flew 52 missions over Germany and Italy. My daughter has served years in the United States Air Force. (My wife) Connie’s brother is Wayne Gray, and he served in Germany during Vietnam. He was guarding the Berlin Wall. I’ve just always had a tremendous respect for people who do that.”

With all this in mind, Chuck too said it was a great honor to have a piece of Liberal in Washington, D.C.

“When you see it from the crowd, it’s one thing, but when you’re down there, it’s just an amazing feeling,” he said. “You start thinking about all the veterans you know and the people who’ve devoted some of their life to being a soldier and fortunately coming home. You think about the families of the veterans who couldn’t come home.”

Chuck has also had the opportunity to bury other veterans, including one from Vietnam and two others killed in action in World War II. Along with the wreath, he considers those opportunities big honors.

As for the wreath laying ceremony, Chuck said he was mostly thinking of April, his father and his father-in-law as he watched what was happening.

“By the grace of God go I that they weren’t there,” he said.

In all of the years the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been a part of Arlington Cemetery, it has never been unguarded, a fact Chuck found amazing.

“It’s a huge honor because I was also thinking about a lot of the veterans we work with from the American Legion, thinking about my brother-in-law who lives here in Liberal who’s a member of the VFW,” he said.

Bowman and the Hornungs took control of Brenneman Funeral Home about two years ago, and in that short time, Chuck said he has met many local veterans.

“I respect what they do,” he said. “We work with the American Legion when we do an honors funeral, and I’ve made a lot of friends with them. It’s to honor them.”

“We were standing there for them,” Kelly said. 

The ceremony took place about a month and a half before Memorial Day, and both Chuck and Kelly found the timing quite appropriate.

Kelly read the words from the front of the tomb.

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God,” she said. “Two weeks before Easter, before the Lord has risen, here we are, laying this wreath. It takes years and years to get your name on the list to do this.”

As she was going down the steps to the tomb, Kelly said her first thoughts were with Bob Armstrong, a local veteran who recently passed away.

“I remember when we first started working with the Patriot Riders and the American Legion, he said, ‘Do you know how many steps they take in front of the tomb?’” she said. “I said, ‘No I don’t.’ He said, ‘It’s 21 steps,’ and he told me why. I remembered him and Ed Lewis and all the tips and tidbits they’ve given as veterans to the funeral service.”

Chuck himself was not able to serve in the military, and he said he could not imagine being in a situation in which he would lose friends similar to wartime.

The wreath laying ceremony was not the only exciting part of the group’s trip to Washington, according to Chuck.

“We got to meet Robert O’Neill, who was a Navy Seal who was involved in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden,” he said. “To hear his story is absolutely amazing. It was a huge honor, and we felt so privileged to represent Liberal.”

“He’s actually the soldier who fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden,” Kelly said. “He got up and spoke and was presented with a coin from the National Funeral Directors Association. During this dinner, he started to talk and tell his story, and the whole room just went quiet as he talked. You literally couldn’t eat because you were so engrossed in all of his training and what it took to be on that team. It was breathtaking. It really was, and he was such a wonderful talented speaker.”

“He told some humorous stories,” Chuck said. “He told some scary stories. He totally told the story from his heart. He had children, and he got deployed and had to be at the base within four hours or five hours, and he went and kissed his daughter goodbye. He was pretty confident he may not return on this mission. To read his book tells even more details.”

Kelly said having the wreath in Arlington Cemetery makes what those at Brenneman do even more important.

“Now, we have this,” she said. “We’ve always honored veterans, and whenever there’s a flag laying on that casket, you always feel so honored to be even just a little piece of that funeral. Now, it’s even more important we are polished and dedicated to anybody in the community who needs us.”

Kelly said it took one full year for the group to be able to take the wreath to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“We had to have our application in for a day and time we were going to be in Washington one year ahead of it,” Chuck said. “It takes a year, and if we’d have been one day off, we may not have got to do it. It’s one year because they have other requests.”

The local funeral leaders also took part in a little politicking on Capitol Hill for the funeral industry, particularly when it comes to veterans.

“We’re advocating for a bill called the Brave Act to create a proper death benefit for eligible veterans and make it an equal playing field so all veterans are entitled to a death benefit,” Chuck said. “I met with the majority leader of the House and discussed this very thing so that he will hopefully support that bill, and he agreed that he would. I have a big investment in trying to better veterans’ benefits just because I feel like we can’t do enough of that.”

Chuck said he has spoken to several local veterans, and they were all quite honored to know they were being thought of at the time of the ceremony.

“Jim Garcia was extremely touched, and he was very moved we had done this for him,” Kelly said. “He was so grateful. ‘Thank you for representing Liberal. Thank you for that.’”

Part of the wreath features a logo featuring five cow lilies, each representing a branch of the military.

“Kelly designed that wreath specifically for that purpose,” Chuck said. “It meant so much to have that done with the five branches of the military in the cow lily.”

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