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Glass helps area veterans with ‘selfless service’

Mirror photo by Patt Keith / Ray J. Glass of Hollidaysburg stands in front of an American flag in the social hall of the VFW in Duncansville.

DUNCANSVILLE — Friends and colleagues describe Ray J. Glass as “having a heart of gold” and “a truly great man” as he works to help area veterans.

Sam Dunkle, deputy commandant at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home said Glass provides “selfless service to his community and veterans at large.”

Glass recently stepped down as commandant of the Blair County Honor Guard, an all-volunteer organization of retired veterans who provide final military honor services for about 100 deceased veterans a year, according to Honor Guard Vice-Commander Iris Tatar of Hollidaysburg.

Since its founding in 2008 by the late Charles Garver, nearly 1,900 veterans have received final salutes. Glass has participated or led 1,450 of those military services. The organization is funded through donations.

“He performs his duties with so much grace and humility,” Tatar said of Glass, adding “there is no better patriot. His heart is in everything he does for the veterans … he is so involved and he has a heart of gold.”

Comprised largely of veterans well over age 65, the Blair County Honor Guard responds to the call of deceased veterans’ families to provide final military services at a funeral home and at gravesites for veterans of all branches of the military.

Glass also has dedicated his senior years to helping living area veterans through his involvement in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

“Even if someone served one day of military service in the Armed Services, the Blair County Honor Guard is there to send the soldier off with military honors,” Glass said.

The federal government only provides military honors to those who die in active service to the country, explained Dunkle, an 23-year Army veteran and commander of American Legion Post 516 in Hollidaysburg.

“If it wasn’t for the Honor Guard, our local vets wouldn’t get the final honors they are due,” Dunkle said. “We are still at war. People forget that … given the active duty operational tempo, the resources aren’t available” to provide final honors to non-active military.

“We’re colleagues and friends,” Dunkle said, “I’ve known Ray for eight years, since I returned to the area. We see each other at Legion events, at the honor guard and at special events here at the home.”

Prior to COVID-19, the Blair County Honor Guard performed a monthly memorial service for veterans who passed within the month, and at annual events such as the carnival, a flag retirement ceremony and a POW/MIA ceremony. Dunkle said Glass is also involved in the annual Veterans Day parade in Altoona.

He’s become a friend to state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, because they attend so many events in the 30th District.

“Ray Glass is one of those rare individuals,” Ward said in an email. “He selflessly gives back to veterans in our community. Any time there is a veterans event, parade or veterans funeral, I know I will see Ray there. He is an Army veteran, a patriot and an all-around good and kind man. I am honored to call Ray a friend.”

“We have a very good working relationship,” Dunkle said. “We’ve had no visitors here since the 10th of March, but Ray stood outside each of the three buildings on Memorial Day and played taps for our residents. It was very, very touching. He is very kind. He is one of those guys that would do anything you would ask. … I’ve promised him that when I retire, I will do my fair share with the honor guard.”

Dunkle also credited Glass with excellent leadership and recruitment skills.

“He’s very polished and has such great military bearing. He leads by example and people follow him because he cares,” Dunkle said.

Glass recruited Tatar to the Honor Guard after meeting her at a funeral where the Honor Guard served.

Tatar, a Navy vet said, she has learned so much from Glass in her two years in the Blair County Honor Guard, from how uniforms should be maintained,

to interacting with bereaved families.

“He loves this country and supporting veterans,” Tatar said.

The honor guard is “playing catch up from COVID” as many services were put on hold during the pandemic. Active members of the Honor Guard number about 40, according to Tatar.

“We have a core group of former soldiers who continue to sacrifice their time and make themselves available for a two-hour commitment,” she said. On a recent Saturday, honor guard members bestowed final honors first in Tyrone and then traveled to the southern end of the county to honor another veteran.

Glass said that most honor guard members are well into their 70s and 80s. He is 85.

“These are the most dedicated people I’ve ever been associated with,” Glass said of guard members, “but we’re all getting older and not able to do what we once used to do.”

Yet, he’s committed to continuing.

“I’m passionate about it. Every soldier who served deserves these final honors.”

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