Camp Nelson Honor guard is Jessamine County’s ‘best kept secret’

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

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By Carrie Hudson

Intern Reporer

The Camp Nelson Honor Guard is something the guard’s commander, Colonel Tracy Lucas, considers “Jessamine County’s best kept secret.”

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It first came to life over two decades ago, partnering with several organizations focusing on honoring veterans.

However, now, Camp Nelson Honor Guard are their own group.

“We started with the Sons of Union Veterans, and we evolved over to the American Legion Man O’ War Post 8 Honor Guard. In 2008, we became our own entity,” Lucas said.

The process of becoming an organization is one that Lucas credits to the late State Senator Tom Buford and former State Representative Robert Damron.

“At the time, there were Senator Tom Buford and State Representative Robert Dameron, both from Jessamine County. Senator Buford wrote a Senate Resolution Letter that acknowledged us as the keeper of the Army of the 47 Infantry at Camp Nelson.”

What is unique about the Camp Nelson Honor Guard is that it is one of three in the nation that performs a full-honor service.

“At Camp Nelson, we provide all of the veterans with the same honor. At Arlington, you have to be a colonel or above, or have been killed in action, or have a Medal of Honor.”

Lucas explained some of the military’s imagery.

“Everything is symbolic in the military. The funeral services themselves can consist of many meaningful aspects, including a caisson, riderless horse, active duty military, as well as veterans that have volunteered their time,” he said.

A caisson is a military wagon that is traditionally used to carry alumination or a fallen soldier, and is drawn by horses.

Lucas stated that the caisson is particularly special due to the nature of Kentucky.

“We have a caisson because this is the horse capital of the world. We use horses from Kentucky. Most of them are standardbreds. Only two places at the time were doing caisson funerals,” he said.

The horses that follow the caisson often wear a riderless horse saddle. The boots on the saddle are backward to symbolize the fallen soldier facing behind, saying goodbye.

“The horse follows behind the casket and the boots are inverted so it’s like he’s saluting to his men that he wouldn’t ride again, like a final farewell,” said Lucas.

Some of the funeral services comprise of active duty military and veterans. The active duty represents the present and surrounds the casket. While the veterans serve as the grandfathers and stand to the side.

Lucas explained the significance to this arrangement. He stated it is as if “the grandfathers are welcoming their grandchild home.”

Over the years, Lucas and the Camp Nelson Honor Guard have performed hundreds of funeral services. Lucas revealed he knew serving with the Honor Guard would be an emotionally heavy job, but with time, he saw himself becoming more emotionally impacted,

“I thought I would get hardened or calloused during funerals like I wouldn’t feel or show any emotions. But really, the more funerals I do, the more emotional I become,” he said.

While shedding a tear, Lucas stated he cries in private at the end of each service.

“I am able to hold it back during the funerals, but when I go through those gates and go home, I cry all the way,” Lucas said.

At the Camp Nelson Honor Guard headquarters, Lucas used that honor to guide him in creating a place to serve veterans and individuals wanting to learn about U.S. history. The walls are lined with historical pictures and shelves of books. The back building has a playground for the children who visit. Every item and detail aims to enrich the overall experience of the visitor, especially veterans.

While operating and maintaining the honor guard can feel overwhelming, Lucas clings to its purpose to keep him going: to honor the veterans and their families.

“I got to live my life, I got to choose to honor the ones that gave me the privilege to do what I want to do. So, I am going to honor them,” Lucas said.

To learn more about the Camp Nelson Honor Guard, please check out its website: