Military funeral customs or honors are some of the strongest burial traditions in the United States. It doesn't matter which branch of the military was served because every member who died during active duty or who was honorably discharged or retired deserves the same respect.
About Military Funeral Honors
Military Funeral Honors are given to any service member -- active, retired or honorably discharged -- upon his or her demise. These honors include:
- An Honor Guard Detail of not less than two members of the Armed Forces, one of whom from the branch in which the deceased person served, also called a parent service representative
- Folding an American flag by a representative of the deceased person's parent service
- Presenting the flag to the next of kin
- Playing Taps either by a bugler or via electronic recording
Family members must request the honors through their funeral home director, who in turn will make the contact for the honors. Those eligible to receive Military Funeral Honors include:
- Active duty service persons or those in the Selected Reserve
- Former active service members who were honorably discharged or retired
- Former members of a Selected Reserve who served for at least one year and who retired or were honorably discharged
- Members of the military who were discharged due to injury received in the line of duty
Other Military Funeral Customs
There are other military funeral customs that are sometimes available:
- During a funeral for a serviceman or woman, every casket has an American flag draped over it. As part of a tradition that dates back to the 18th century, the blue field of the flag is placed at the head of the casket, over the deceased person's left shoulder during the funeral.
- Once the graveside services are completed, if requested, there will be a 21-gun salute. Besides the flag, many times the parent service representative will give the next of kin a casing from rounds that are shot.
- During military funerals for heads of state -- a former U.S. President for example -- the casket is placed upon a caisson and pulled by several horses. However, a single riderless horse follows behind bearing only boots facing backward in the stirrups. This caparisoned horse symbolizes that the deceased person will never ride again. This style of procession is also used during a funeral for an Army or Marine Corps officer who ranked a corporal or higher.
- During services at Arlington National Cemetery, a service person will stand vigil over the casket until it is properly interred in the ground.
Arlington National Cemetery
Since 1864, military veterans (and their spouses) have had the option of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. In 2008, about 25 funerals are held each workday at the cemetery, burying the remains of service members who died in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, and veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There is no charge to be buried in this national cemetery, unless you want to erect a private monument on the burial site. The basic military headstone is also engraved and placed at the gravesite at no charge. For information, have your funeral home director contact the Interment Office at Arlington National Cemetery (703) 607-8585. More information can be found on the cemetery's website.
Military Funeral Honors References
Be assured that when you make funeral arrangements for a soldier or sailor, you can receive both informational and financial information from various agencies:
Important Information to Remember
After a loved one has died, the next of kin needs to contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and file a claim for survivor's benefits. Under the law, the U.S. government will pay a death pension and a dependency compensation to surviving family members. Several types of burial benefits and allowances are also given to the deceased, honorably discharged veterans and their families. The next of kin will need copies of either a marriage license or children's birth certificates, as well as proof of the service person's death.