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Military Funeral Honors: Honoring Those Who Served
After being present at several thousand military funerals, we can group the comments following these services into two statements: First, "That was truly inspiring and dignified," and second, "Why was there no 21-gun salute?"
Our country boasts a long history of recognizing our deceased military with some form of honors. In the late 1990s, as the number of military veterans passing away increased to more than 2,000 a day, leaders standardized a procedure for offering military honors and making personnel available for funerals. The Congress ensured the continuity of this practice with Public Law 106-65, The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000.
Upon the family's request, every eligible veteran may receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presenting of the United States burial flag and the playing of "Taps." Two or more uniformed military persons, one of whom is a member of the veteran’s parent service of the armed forces, will attend to honor the veteran.
Any veteran who served in the armed forces and received a discharge under “other than dishonorable conditions” is eligible for military funeral honors. The family must provide proof of the veteran’s service. This can include a copy of the DD Form 214, separation documents from the branch of service or Department of Veterans Affairs documents verifying service. The veteran should obtain these documents in advance and have them readily available for use when needed. If the family has to obtain these documents after the veteran passes away, it can be time consuming and could delay the funeral service.
What can the family of an eligible veteran expect at the funeral honors ceremony?
- Flag folding & presentation: The veteran's parent service representative will present the flag.
- Playing of “Taps”: If a bugler is unavailable, a high-quality recorded version may be used.
Additional elements that could be provided as part of the funeral honors ceremony include:
- Rifle detail
- Color guard
- Military fly-over
Because of the high volume of burials and limited staffing available, these honors are normally limited to active duty deaths and military retirees. When possible, the different branches of service make exceptions to this limitation. Various veterans’ organizations can also form funeral honors details. They provide members for rifle detail, color guard and pallbearing.
The 21-gun salute is not common at most funeral services. The salute actually consists of three volleys fired by the available members of the detail.
No matter the size of the detail, each service is conducted with the dignity and respect the veteran deserves. Military leaders select members for these details very carefully, and these details receive intense training prior to appearing before a family. In fact, many members have served on the details for several years.
Members from the Georgia Army National Guard have participated in thousands of services since the Georgia Army National Guard Honors Detachment formed. The details arrive at least an hour in advance of the service to rehearse and ensure the family’s memories are positive.
When the family hears the last notes of "Taps," we want them to know that our memories and gratitude for their loved one's service linger on.
State offices will be closed on Monday, May 27 so that families can honor Memorial Day. Offices will reopen Tuesday, May 28.
About the Authors
Russell Feagin is a retired US Army officer with over twenty years of service. He has been at the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Milledgeville since March 2001 and has been the Director since May 2009. He is a life member of the Military Officers Association of America, a life member of Disabled American Veterans, and a member of the American Legion.
Ernie Cowart served in the US Air Force and the Air National Guard. He has been at the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Glennville since September 2007 and has been Director since November 2010.