By Mitch Prentice
The (Galesburg) Register-Mail
ABINGDON — Bob Haynes joined the Marine Corps in 1961 and stayed for three years. He spent much of his time on ships, including sailing to Okinawa. A year following his time in the military, he returned home to Abingdon and was married to his wife. He has been an Abingdon local for his whole life, and after settling down and finding a job, he joined the American Legion as part of the honor guard.
“When I joined, they handed me a rifle and said get in line,” Haynes said.
Saturday’s Veterans Day ceremony in Abingdon will be Haynes’ last, as he has decided to retire from his leadership role after 52 years of service.
In 1965, Haynes recalls there being about 20 members of the Legion on the firing squad. He says they used high school kids to play the bugle for the ceremonies, even going as far as to pull them out of school. He believes people truly respected the job they did at these ceremonies.
More than 50 years have passed since Haynes’ first ceremony, and now he says things have changed. The main difference he sees is the difficulty in recruiting new members. Though the Legion still has many veteran members, the younger members are becoming less, even if the desire is still there. Haynes attributes this to the challenges younger members face with work schedules and trying to get off of work to attend meetings and events.
Haynes says he stayed in his Legion role for so long to give service members the ceremony they deserve. He had a brother-in-law who was killed in Vietnam, which he recalls as one of the hardest services he’s had to attend.
“I felt that is was my duty as a veteran and a member of the American Legion that I should keep it up,” Haynes said. “You’re doing it for the families and the veterans and they always appreciate it.”
Dave Crouse, a fellow American Legion honor guard member and friend of Haynes, says Haynes is an irreplaceable addition to Abingdon as a whole. Within their work on the honor guard, Crouse says Haynes in his commanding role puts on a “very crisp and professional” service for the veterans.
“I just don’t know how we are going to replace him,” Crouse said. “In fact, I’m sorry for the guy that has to try and replace him.”
Crouse says the American Legion is actively searching for someone to take Haynes’ role as honor guard commander. The main idea is to look for a retired person who would be able to make all of the ceremonies. Though there is no one currently able to take over on a permanent basis, Crouse says they are doing their best to fill Haynes’ position from ceremony to ceremony.
Dennis Landon, who works for Hinchliff-Pearson-West Funeral Home in Abingdon, says he has had a working relationship with Haynes for a long time and has personally known him much of his life. He says he believes many residents of Abingdon don’t understand just how important Haynes is to the town — this is not only because of his time in the American Legion, but also his involvement within the community in general.
“He’s a positive force for this community,” Landon said. “He would do anything for anybody. That’s the kind of guy Bob Haynes is.”
Haynes says he chose now to retire because it felt like the right time. He also recalls making the plan to retire on his 75th birthday, which is exactly what he will be doing.
He believes through it all, he will miss the camaraderie with fellow members the most. However, golfing in the summertime on his own schedule sounds pretty nice, too.
“I think for me, it’s time to relax,” he said. “I’ll play golf when I want to and not worry about it. It’s been a good run.”