Military funeral honors are a solemn and meaningful way to pay tribute to those who have served our nation. These honors are a way to express deep gratitude for the commitment and sacrifice of uniformed service members and veterans. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various elements of military funeral honors, the eligibility criteria, and the process of arranging these honors. We will also delve into the traditions and protocols followed during a military funeral, including the playing of Taps, the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag, and other additional elements that may be included.
To receive military funeral honors, certain criteria must be met. Any uniformed service member or veteran of the armed forces is eligible for these honors. The military funeral honors program is organized by the decedent’s branch of service. It is important to submit a request for military funeral honors as soon as possible, allowing the military services enough time to organize the necessary resources for the honors detail. The request can be made through the eligible veteran’s funeral director/planner or funeral honors coordinator. It is also recommended to review the MilLife Learning eTutorial to better understand the Military Funeral Honors Program and eligibility.
The core elements of a military funeral honors ceremony include the playing of Taps and the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag. These elements are mandated by law, and military units are required to provide a minimum of a two-person uniformed detail for these honors. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements:
Taps is a poignant and solemn bugle call that holds deep significance in military funeral ceremonies. The version of Taps we know today was officially recognized by the U.S. Army in 1874 and became standard at military funeral ceremonies in 1891. In 2013, it was legislated as the “National Song of Military Remembrance.” Although a live bugler is preferred, a ceremonial bugle or a high-quality recording on a stereo player may be used. A ceremonial bugle is an electronic device that fits directly inside the bell portion of a bugle and contains a recording of Taps.
The U.S. flag plays a vital role in honoring the memory of a service member or veteran’s service to our country. The flag is draped on a closed casket or already in a military fold when an urn is used. During the ceremony, a uniformed representative from the veteran’s service will present the flag to the next of kin or a close friend or associate of the deceased veteran if there is no next of kin. The flag is carefully folded into the symbolic tricorn shape, with each fold representing one of the 13 original colonies. When folded, only the blue field with stars is visible, leaving no red or white stripes.
Depending on available resources and personnel, additional elements may be included in the military funeral honors ceremony. These can include a rifle volley, color guard, pallbearers, caisson, and even a military flyover if approved. Trained volunteers and veterans services organizations may also augment the two-person service detail. It should be noted that a military flyover is not part of the mandated funeral honors ceremony but can be arranged if supporting personnel and aircraft are available. Burial at sea is another option for final disposition, performed on U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels.
A burial flag is a significant symbol of appreciation for a service member’s honorable and faithful service. To receive a burial flag, you need to complete a VA Form 27-2008, “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes.” This form can be taken to your funeral director, any Department of Veterans Affairs regional office, or a post office. Burial flags are provided free of charge and will be presented to the veteran’s next of kin. If there is no next of kin, the flag may be given, upon request, to a friend or associate of the deceased veteran. Additional information can be obtained from the VA’s website.
Military funeral honors provided at Arlington National Cemetery differ from those at other national cemeteries. There are three types of burial honors rendered at Arlington: military funeral honors, military funeral honors with funeral escort, and dependent honors. Enlisted service members, WO-1 through CW-3, and O-1 through O-3, who are interred or inurned at Arlington will receive military funeral honors. Those who attained higher ranks or received special recognition may receive military funeral honors with funeral escort. Spouses and dependents are eligible for certain honors as well.
In addition to the core elements of military funeral honors, there are several additional elements and honors that may be included in a military funeral ceremony. These elements add depth and solemnity to the proceedings and reflect the rank and status of the deceased. Some of these additional elements include a caparisoned horse for Army and Marine Corps colonels and general officers, a battery cannon salute for Army, Navy, and Marine Corps general officers, minute guns for certain flag officers, and a 21-gun salute for the president of the United States.
The presence of a military chaplain can provide comfort and solace during a military funeral. A military chaplain may be scheduled by the cemetery staff upon request, but families may also choose to have a family minister present if desired. The military chaplain can offer spiritual support and guidance to the bereaved family and participate in the funeral service as required.
Military funeral honors are a deeply meaningful way to honor the service and sacrifice of uniformed service members and veterans. These honors, including the playing of Taps, the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag, and other additional elements, provide comfort and gratitude to the families of those who have served our nation. It is important to understand the eligibility criteria and process for requesting military funeral honors to ensure a dignified and respectful ceremony. By following the traditions and protocols associated with military funerals, we can pay tribute to those who have selflessly served our country.