Military Funeral Honors and Traditions
Military Funeral Honors are centered in tradition and dignity. They are rich with symbolism and available for all veterans and military personnel who served their country honorably.
Who Is Eligible for Military Funeral Honors?
Servicemembers who died while in active duty or the reserves are eligible for military funeral honors, as are any veterans who were discharged under any condition except dishonorable.
Veterans can have served in active duty or one term of enlistment in the reserves. Also eligible for funeral honors are members of the National Guard, Public Health Service (PHS), and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
When servicemembers die in action, their bodies are laid in an aluminum case, which is embossed with an American flag and the seal of the Department of Defense. The case is then draped in a flag and the body is transferred to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. It is then taken in a solemn parade by way of hearse to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center in Dover.
Normally, the carry guard and family members will follow behind the hearse on foot. At the AFMAO, the body is dressed in full uniform and given all necessary burial preparations.
Rendering of Honors
At each transfer point through which the remains must pass, military personnel are stationed to render honors such as standing at attention and giving salutes. Military escorts are specially trained to render such honors.
As is tradition, the body of the fallen service member will only ever travel feet-first. Honor guards are also assigned to honor the remains of every service member who died in active duty. These honor guards are small, comprised of a minimum of two military personnel.
The military escort is relieved of duty when the service member’s body reaches the designated funeral home. The escort is not required to attend the funeral, though they can if they wish.
Items found in the fallen servicemember’s foot locker are cleaned, photographed, and cataloged. After that, they’re either shipped to the servicemember’s family, or, if the effects were on the servicemember’s person at their time of death, they are handed over to the military escort. The military escort can then present these items in person to the fallen servicemember’s family.
The Military Funeral Ceremony
Some aspects of the military funeral ceremony may differ between individuals, depending on whether or not they served in active duty, retirement versus discharge, what rank they held, etc. But the fundamental elements of the ceremony are the same for all. Most of these proceedings take place at the grave site rather than at the funeral.
The proceedings are described below:
- A hearse or sometimes a horse-drawn caisson brings the service member’s body to the grave site. The body is contained in a casket, which is then draped in an American flag.
- If the service member or his/her family wishes, a chaplain can address the crowd.
- After the committal service, the honor guard will approach the grave and unfold the American flag over the casket.
- As the flag is lifted taut, three volleys are fired by a firing party usually comprised of seven persons. Sometimes, leftover shells from the volleys are tucked into the folded flag later.
- After the volleys, the bugler will sound “Taps.”
- The honor guard will then fold the American flag twelve times in the traditional method, the end result being a triangular shape showing the stars. Learn the symbolism behind each of the twelve folds here.
- Lastly, the highest ranking officer present may show the folded flag to the family of the deceased, salute, and give a statement if they wish.
Showing Our Thanks and Devotion
At Low VA Rates, we are grateful every day for the sacrifices made by those who have fallen. Whether they died old or young, at home or far away, we are indebted to their service. In return, we hope to provide opportunities for veterans and their families, both in the mortgage industry and in the path to homeownership. To learn more about what we do to reach out to the veteran community and show our appreciation, visit our website or follow us on social media.