GLADSTONE - The Gladstone American Legion Drill Team has continued its steady march of community involvement and patriotism for 12 years. For their work in the community, the drill team has been selected as the Daily Press Volunteer of the Month.
"There's a couple times I was almost going to give this drill team up but everybody keeps telling us, 'don't do it, Wayne' - people off the street, 'Keep it going, this is what it's all about,'" said Wayne Berthaume, who organized the American Legion Post 71 Drill Team more than a decade ago.
Berthaume - who had started and ran a drill team for about 16 years in the Army National Guard, following his discharge from the Army - organized the team after members of the Gladstone Legion Post convinced him to start a team for the post.
The Gladstone American Legion Drill Team marches in a recent parade. Because of the group’s community involvement, they have been selected as the Daily Press Volunteer of the Month. (Daily Press file photo)
At one point the drill team had 17 members, but now the team is down to seven, including Berthaume. The other members on the team are Don Couillard, Ron Couillard, Tony Sustarich, John Anderson, Dean Warner and Brenden Derusha.
Despite a significantly smaller team than in the past, the drill team is busy.
The team can be seen presenting the colors at parades, funerals, community and charitable events, the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette, and sporting events throughout the community.
"We do all the homecoming games for Gladstone because we're part of Gladstone. We were doing it for years for just the boys then all of a sudden the principal said, 'Gee Wayne, the girls would like to have you, too,'" said Berthaume, adding that the drill team had only performed at 18 games this year due to weather. Last year, the drill team performed at 21 sporting events.
While funerals may be a sad occasion, the drill team presentation offers mourning loved ones another way to honor the departed.
"We're up to 300-and-some funerals now," said Berthaume, who has kept track of every funeral the drill team has presented at since their first funeral in 1997.
When the drill team started doing funeral services, the intent was to reserve the honor for members of the American Legion Post 71, but requests from the community led the drill team to perform for those outside the Legion's membership.
"Now we're getting (requests) from all different people," said Berthaume.
Memorial Day is a particularly busy day for the drill team. Every year the team starts off at Fernwood Cemetery, in Gladstone, before heading to the Gladstone Yacht Club, where the team fires their rifles over the bay. Following the presentation, the group heads to Rapid River to participate in a parade.
"We fire over the water for all the sailors and the Marines that died for us," Berthaume said, explaining the significance of the drill team firing over the bay.
Parades are a major part of the drill team's repertoire.
"We do the Memorial Day, the Fourth of July is our own parade in Gladstone, and we also do a Labor Day Parade," said Berthaume.
When not performing for sporting events, funerals, or parades, the group frequently finds its place at community activities and fundraisers like Relay for Life or the Special Olympics basketball tournament held in Escanaba each winter.
"There's been so many things that we've (done) that I can't remember them all," said Berthaume.
No matter where they find themselves, raising the flag and honoring the fallen is the goal of the drill team. Before every presentation the group is reminded of that through a pep talk.
"I says, 'You know, we're marching also for these men and women that never came back,' so I said, 'Every time we march let's give it all we've got,'" said Berthaume. "And it's true because ... they're up there looking down on us, and (the drill team will) go to beat heck."
Berthaume notes the team could always use more members, and those interested in joining don't need to have drill team or military experience. Anyone who is interested should contact Berthaume at 786-4263.
While Berthaume hopes the drill team can grow, he believes attracting a younger generation of drill team members could be difficult.
"There is no more dedication in this new era. Even your younger guys don't want to join clubs or anything. They don't want to get involved in anything," he said.
Still, the team hopes to continue its mission of honoring the country and its heroes by presenting the colors whenever they can.
"We just try to just keep it going mainly to carry that flag on. I believe in that," said Berthaume.