Hot Springs man serves as casket bearer for President Bush’s interment

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  • U.S. Navy seaman Anthony Byrns of Hot Springs, second from left on the near side, was one of eight ceremonial honor guards who carried President George H.W. Bush’s casket to the presidential library on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, Texas, for burial on Thursday, Dec. 6. (Courtesy photo)

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    A ceremonial honor guard was in charge of the procession of President George H.W. Bush’s casket being carried to the presidential library on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, Texas. (Courtesy photo)

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    Seaman Anthony Byrns, pictured in full uniform, was a part of the ceremonial honor guard serving as a casket bearer during the interment of President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 6 (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byrns)

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    Pictured is the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard insignia in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byrns)

  • U.S. Navy seaman Anthony Byrns of Hot Springs, second from left on the near side, was one of eight ceremonial honor guards who carried President George H.W. Bush’s casket to the presidential library on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, Texas, for burial on Thursday, Dec. 6. (Courtesy photo)

  • 1

    A ceremonial honor guard was in charge of the procession of President George H.W. Bush’s casket being carried to the presidential library on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, Texas. (Courtesy photo)

  • 2

    Seaman Anthony Byrns, pictured in full uniform, was a part of the ceremonial honor guard serving as a casket bearer during the interment of President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 6 (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byrns)

  • 3

    Pictured is the United States Navy Ceremonial Guard insignia in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Byrns)

Anthony Byrns is only 22 years old and already has one of those memories that will last a lifetime.

The 2015 graduate of Hot Springs High School and U.S. Navy seaman served as one of the eight casket bearers during the interment of President George H.W. Bush in College Station, Texas, at his presidential library grounds Dec. 6. Bush served as president from 1981-89. He died Nov. 30 at age 94.

Byrns and the other ceremonial honor guards were dispatched from the Anacosta Joint Base. They carried the casket from a presidential hearse that arrived at the library across the bridge on the Texas A&M campus to the private Bush burial ground. They were also involved in the flag-folding ceremony presented to former President George W. Bush, the nation’s 43rd president.

For his service, Byrns received his third commemorative achievement coin. There are one each from the Secretary of State, the Chief of Naval Operations, and for the Dec. 6 ceremony from the President of the United States.

“They are very coveted coins,” Anthony’s father, Kevin Byrns, said Saturday during an in-depth conversation.

ANTHONY IS a third-generation serviceman in the Navy. His grandfather Joseph Byrns, who is 86 years old and lives just outside Yosemite National Park in California, served in the Navy for 22 years. Kevin Byrns was in the Navy for three years, honorably discharged in January 1976. He and his wife of nearly 18 years, Momoyo Kobayashi, live just outside Hot Springs.

“We moved all over the place,” Kevin said of living the life of a parent in the military. “It gave you a different mindset. You had to cope with rapid changes at an early age.

“It’s a tradition with us,” Kevin said of the connection with the Navy. “My father was a naval officer.”

Kevin’s daughter-in-law, Casandra Byrns, served in the Air Force, following family military tradition. After three years in Okinawa, Japan, she was honorably discharged about six months ago.

Kevin and his family moved to Hot Springs from California about 12 years ago after working for a multitude of Silicon Valley firms. His 42-year career in engineering continues. He is now a software engineer for IBM.

ANTHONY’S THOUGHT process of perhaps going into the Navy started when he was 16, according to his father.

“He considered the Air Force, but he wanted to honor his father so he went into the Navy,” Kevin said, but later considered special operations, before finally settling on his rating.

Kevin spoke about the anticipation of Anthony being part of the interment ceremony on Dec. 6.

“It was just so emotional for me,” Kevin said when he watched the telecast of the ceremony. “When ‘word’ became ‘reality’ on nationwide TV, I could not hold back my emotions … I cried for a day. I probably watched it (the playback of the ceremony) 20 times.”

PROUD FATHER Kevin shared details of how his son was selected to be among President Bush’s casket bearers.

Anthony — who has dual citizenship, U.S. and Japanese — enlisted in the Navy in 2016, but it was not until January of 2017 that he went to boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois.

Kevin was born on that base, when his father Joseph was serving in the Navy. Kevin did his boot camp in Florida, and was in A School at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

After boot camp, Anthony then went to Anacosta Joint Base in Washington, D.C., in March 2017 — where he is now, 21 months into his time there. Anthony is a seaman who will make petty officer upon attending his military police A School training in San Antonio, Texas, later in 2019, where he will earn petty officer third-class status, according to his father.

Anthony is currently considering officer candidate school as he loves the Navy and is considering a long-term career.

“You come out as an ensign after four years of school/college and you come out an officer,” Kevin explained.

JUST HOW was Anthony selected to be among the casket bearers for President George H.W. Bush?

“When they go through boot camp, drill instructors are always looking for qualities like attitude, physical build and ability, discipline, behavioral traits and just people who are generally squared away,” Kevin said.

When drill instructors looked at trainees, they visualized their role of being part of the “face of the Navy,” according to Kevin. “They offer up the role to serve as a ceremonial honor guard. This is a very coveted position.”

In a Navy of 400,000 personnel, there are only 230 ceremonial honor guards. “So the selection process is thorough,” Kevin said.

When possible candidate selections are made, the drill instructors notify their commanding officers, and they meet with candidates prior to being made aware of the position as a ceremonial honor guard.

Kevin spoke about the physical attributes of a casket bearer.

“They’re built like a brick house. They’re big men with big muscles,” he said. “Anthony is a body builder.”

The casket bearers were elated when Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Terminator,” visited with them after the interment ceremony.

Kevin indicated that Anthony and the other casket bearers were “on call” when it was determined that President Bush’s death was eminent.

After they arrived in Texas, preparation for the event was enormous. Honor guards perform during a wide range of events involving foreign dignitaries.

WHEN HE completes his time at Anacosta Joint Base, he will be “shipped out” in April 2019 to a military police A School in San Antonio, Texas.

Anthony follows in his grandfather and father’s footsteps in serving to the country he loves so dearly. Kevin was in the Navy toward the tail end of the Vietnam War. He did not see action, but served in that theater.

Prior to coming aboard the 7th Fleet flagship guided missile cruiser USS Oklahoma City, his ship was involved in many operations off the coast of Vietnam. Kevin’s rate was fire control technician-missile (FTM).

Kevin’s father Joseph served aboard the USS Enterprise, USS Holland, USS Belknap and other ships, including submarine duty.

KEVIN LAST saw Anthony in August of this year, and Anthony’s hoping to get leave to return to Hot Springs for Christmas.

“I think he has a ‘warrior spirit,’” Kevin said of his son. “He ran track in high school, he was very active in sports … He’s very, very dedicated in what he does. He loves serving his country.”

Anthony is seriously considering making a career out of it. If that happens, the three generations of the Byrns family in the Navy — Joseph, Kevin and Anthony — will have a big smile on their faces for their proud service to the country they love.

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