Anyone who’s ever been to a military honors funeral (especially one with full military honors) knows what a beautiful, resonating tribute it is to a veteran’s bravery, sacrifice and service. The good news is, most U.S. veterans and all active duty members of the armed forces or in the active reserve have the right to be buried with military honors, free of charge to the family.
What’s Included in a Military Honors Funeral?
Honor Guard - All eligible veterans are guaranteed a “folding” and “presenting” of the burial flag by no less than two members of the armed forces, with at least one of those being a representative of the deceased’s branch of military, as well as the playing of taps.
Transfer - During all military funerals, caskets being transferred to the burial site are draped in the flag, with the stars over the left shoulder, which is a custom that dates back to the Napoleonic wars.
Presidents and other high-ranking officials receive a “full military honors” funeral, complete with a horse-drawn caisson. In keeping with tradition, only the horses on the left bear riders, while the ones on the right are merely saddled, as were the horses once used to carry ammunition in battles past.
In the case of Army and Marine veterans with a rank of colonel or higher, a riderless horse will follow this procession, signifying the absence of the fallen officer.
Taps - Although not given the name “Taps” until 1874, the plaintive, yet simple, tune was penned by General Daniel Adams Butterfield in 1862, after he recalled the notes of a french military bugle signal that had once let soldiers know when it was time to end the day.
In 1891, it was required by the Army Infantry that “Taps” be played at all military funerals and, as many of us know, it not only remains the signal of “lights out” at the day’s end, but is now the official music of modern all U.S. military burials, memorial services and flag lowerings.
Due to the decreasing number available buglers, it’s acceptable to play a recording of “Taps” at a military honors funeral, with a speaker inside the bugle, which gives the appearance of a live bugle ceremony.
Flag Folding and Presentation - The burial flag is ceremoniously removed from the casket by the honor guard and folded lengthwise, twice, so that the blue field of stars remain visible on top. The ten “triangle folds” are then made, each fold symbolizing the principles upon which our country was founded, until only the familiar blue-spangled triangle remains.
The flag is then formally presented, waist high and straight edge front, to the veteran’s next of kin while the following while the following words are spoken:
“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.”
Three Volleys of Rifle Shots - Often mistaken for the 21-Gun Salute that’s now reserved for Presidents, ex-Presidents, the American Flag, specific holidays, etc. and fired from actual large-caliber “guns”, the Three Volleys are what people hear at most military funerals.
Fired from rifles by an honor guard, the volleys are based on tradition, signifying the battlefield ceasefires during which the warring sides could take time to clear the dead. The volleys indicated the dead had been removed and properly tended to.
Are all veterans and active duty service members eligible?
Unfortunately, unless you or your loved one is on active duty at the time of passing, there are steps that may have to be taken to ensure that you or they receive a military honors funeral.
First, establish eligibility by making sure you or your service member is:
- A military member on active duty or in the Selected Reserve.
- A former military member who served on active duty and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.
- A former military member who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.
- A former military members discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.*
Next, contact the funeral home handling the burial . . .
The Department of Defense mandates that U.S. funeral home directors must provide the service of requesting military honors on behalf of the family, but local veterans organizations like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars can also be great resources.
The veteran or veteran’s family must also provide proof of service, which is usually done by providing a copy of a valid discharge form (most commonly a DD-214) specifying that the veteran’s discharge was anything other than “dishonorable.”
What if you aren’t able to locate the forms in a timely fashion?
In the case of a lost or never received DD-214 (or other type of discharge papers), veterans or their loved ones have the choice of ordering them for free through the National Archive’s eVetRecs.com service. They even provide a way to submit “urgent” requests in case of funerals, surgeries, disasters and other emergencies.
However, the “free” eVetRecs way is still, notoriously, the slowest possible way to receive your military records, if you receive them at all . . .
. . . Which is why we created DD214Direct.com!
Staffed by highly experienced, diligent professionals who act as clients’ personal advocates, DD214Direct.com delivers your documents in time for the veteran to receive honors. Avoid the hassle of printing, faxing, waiting, and wondering--dealing with the government is a pain. One call (or three clicks) to DD214direct.com does it all.
When it’s this important, you can’t afford to waste time. Contact DD214Direct.com today!