Military Funeral Honors: “Honoring Those Who Served”
At military funerals, special military funeral honors are rendered to veterans to show the nation’s deep gratitude to those who have faithfully defended our country. Military funerals are touching and powerful to behold, especially when they honor a close friend or family member.
Both of my grandfathers have passed away over the past two years. Something I will never forget was how much the military honors at both of their funerals meant to me and my family. My grandfather, Major Bill Parris, served 22 years in the Air Force during the Cold War. My grandfather, Major John Hertz, served 21 years in the Air Force, including a deployment to Vietnam.
As I watched the honor guard team carry both of my grandfathers’ flag-draped caskets at each funeral, I was sad, but I was also proud. From the bugler ringing out the traditional “Taps,” to the three rifle volley, and finally the flag folding ceremony, I was overwhelmed with how moving and special the ceremonies were. To see representatives of the Armed Forces honor both of my grandfathers was infinitely meaningful to witness.
The part that brought me to tears at both funerals was when the folded flag was presented to my grandmothers, Mary Kate Parris and Barbara Hertz, on behalf of both of my grandfathers’ “faithful and dedicated service.” As the poignant sound of the bugle hung in the air, I knew my grandfathers would be proud of the honors they received. The military funeral honors were precious to my family, and I know they are for many other military families as well.
Eligibility for Military Honors
Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, if the family requests it. The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for providing military funeral honors. Contact your local funeral home to arrange military funeral honors.
Military honors at a funeral are available for military members who died while on active duty service or in the Selected Reserve, for honorably discharged veterans who served on active duty or in the Selected Reserve, and also for former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or term of obligated service in the Reserves. Find out more about eligibility for military honors from the Department of Defense.
Honors Required by Public Law
There are three core elements that are required by Public Law for military honors ceremonies: the playing of “Taps,” the folding of the flag, and the flag presentation.
Playing of “Taps”
The playing of the song “Taps” by a bugler is a final salute to the deceased veteran. A live bugler performance is preferred by the Department of Defense, but very few buglers can be found in the military today, so a recording may be used if necessary. A Ceremonial Bugle is a bugle with a sound device placed in the bell that plays a recording of “Taps,” and can be used to give a recording the appearance of an actual bugler playing.
In honor of a veteran’s service to the country, a flag is draped over the closed casket with the union blue field at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. After “Taps” is played, the flag is folded thirteen times to represent the original colonies. The red and white stripes are wrapped into the blue during the last fold, symbolizing the light of day vanishing into the darkness of night. The flag, folded into a tri-cornered shape, is symbolic of the hats worn by Patriots during the American Revolution.
The folded flag is then presented by the highest ranking honor guard to the next of kin of the deceased or an appropriate family member. The exact words spoken for the presentation of the flag depends on the branch of service. The honor guard speaks:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, (the United States Army; the United States Marine Corps; the United States Navy; or the United States Air Force), and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
In addition to the elements required by Public Law, additional honors may be requested for military funerals depending on preference of the family and resource availability. Additional military funeral honors include requesting honor guards to act as pallbearers, the firing of three rifle volleys, and a military flyover.
Family members may request that members of the honor guard act as pallbearers, if manpower is available.
If possible, the honor guard team will fire three rifle volleys in honor of the deceased. Regardless of the size of the team, each honor guard will fire three volleys. This rifle detail is often confused with the 21-gun salute, which is completely different.
The military does not classify a rifle as a gun, so the three rifle volley isn’t a gun salute at all. The tradition of the three rifle volleys comes from an old battlefield custom where enemies stopped battle to clear the dead from the field and fired three volleys when they were ready to resume battle.
Eligibility for a military flyover, though typically used for honoring fallen pilots, depends on many factors. This includes the military status of the deceased, the availability of personnel and aircraft, the location of the funeral service, the time and date of the funeral, and weather conditions. The aircraft fly in the “missing man” formation. They start in a V-shape, and as the planes pass overhead, one of them splits off and away from the group, leaving a gap in the formation. The others continue to fly with the gap, which symbolizes the fallen soldier.
Military funerals are moving to witness. I treasure having seen both of my grandfathers honored by military funerals. I will never forget the ceremonies, and I know it means much to so many other family members of veterans.
Everlasting Footprint celebrates and honors the lives of veterans. We thank them for their service.