The life of a military service member is full of traditions and customs that carry on even after they are no longer with us. In fact, the military funeral is one of the proudest military traditions there is. Whether the service member was on active duty or had long been a veteran, they will receive a dignified funeral service intended to honor the dedication they had and the sacrifices they made for their country.
However, to ensure that they do receive the military burial honors they deserve, it’s important for the loved ones of a recently deceased service member to know what those honors entail and to have an understanding of the resources they have at their disposal for planning a military funeral.
To help all of those who have lost a loved one who served, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to military funeral services.
How to Properly Conduct a Military Funeral Service
If you should be in the process of planning a veteran funeral service and therefore feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to provide your loved one with the proper honors, the first thing to know is that you’re not alone.
Several groups out there will be more than willing to help you plan a proper military funeral. You can contact either the American Legion or your local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, and they will guide you through your next steps.
You can also go online and search for “military bases near me” and give them a call. Typically, a local unit will provide you with a personal guide who will help you with all of the necessary arrangements. The unit’s commander will generally determine the sort of celebration a service member will receive, though there are several military funeral honors that all veterans receive.
Military Decorations for the Body
An aspect of a military funeral that the family of the fallen member will need to decide on regards how they would like their loved one to be dressed when buried. Though a veteran can be buried in their uniform if their family would like them to be, they are most often laid to rest in regular civilian suits.
Military decorations are also a big part of a veteran’s burial service. Families will typically bury their loved ones with the honors they received during their time in service, but if you don’t know what honors your loved one received, you can submit a request for their military service records, which will give you all the information you need.
The DD-214 is the set of documents you’ll want to look at to determine all of the decorations that your loved one should be buried with. These are their discharge papers, and you can receive a copy of them through the VA either online, through the mail, or in person.
Placement of Decorations
There are a few things you should know about placing your loved one’s military decorations at their burial. Perhaps the most important is that all military medals should be placed over the left breast pocket in order of their precedence.
The highest honor your loved one received should be placed closest to their heart, and proceeding medals should go from the highest honor on the right, at about the center of their body, and move left in descending order.
If all the medals don’t fit on one row, then place the highest medal on the top row closest to the center of the body and the lowest medal on the bottom row furthest away from the center of the body.
You may also choose to bestow your loved one with a lapel pin that displays the highest honor or award they were bestowed during their time in the service.
Military Funeral Flag
The funeral flag is one of the most significant aspects of all military funeral services, either draped over the casket or displayed along with the urn during the services.
Your loved one is entitled to a flag that will be provided free of charge upon request from the VA. There are a few eligibility rules, but the vast majority of service members receive a flag for their military funeral honors.
How to Present the United States Flag
As is always the case with an American flag, there is a particular etiquette around handling the flag regarding veteran funeral honors. Both family members and funeral directors need to understand the decorum, so take a look at these basic rules:
Draping on a Closed Casket
When draping a flag over a closed casket, the union — the blue field that contains the stars — should be at the head of the casket, above the left shoulder of the deceased service member.
Draping on an Open Casket
For a fully open casket, the flag should be folded and displayed within the casket over the left shoulder of the deceased service member.
For a half-open casket, the flag should be folded three times, each with a ten-inch fold. The union will be on the top layer, and it should be placed on the closed half of the casket to the left side of the deceased.
Placing the Flag Next to a Photo of the Deceased
The flag may also be displayed next to an image of the deceased if the family chooses. In such a case, it will need to be folded into the traditional triangle form.
How to Properly Fold a Flag
It’s important to fold the flag according to tradition, especially during veteran funeral honors. If you’d like to know how to do it, the flag folding guide below can help.
Presenting the Flag to a Spouse or Next of Kin
During official military funeral honors, the Taps bugle call is played, after which the flag will be folded up and formally presented to the spouse or next of kin of the deceased. The procedure is performed by military personnel in a more elaborate military funeral service, but it can be done by the funeral director for smaller services.
For funeral directors, the specific customs are less rigid, and they may present the flag using their words or can recite this phrase:
“Please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
However, the folded flag must always be presented at waist height and facing the recipient with its straight edge toward them during the process.
A proper headstone is critical for the continued honoring of the life of a departed service member, and no one who has dedicated themselves to their country should ever be buried in an unmarked grave. Therefore, the VA provides headstones free of charge to all families of deceased service members, which can be placed in any cemetery around the world.
Additional Military Funeral Honors
In the most elaborate military funeral services, there are certain traditions beyond the aforementioned playing of the Taps bugle call that are followed, including the firing party, the marching element, a military band, the battery cannon salute for generals, the 19-gun salute for high state officials, and the 21-gun salute for the president.
Most veterans are also eligible to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. If you would like your loved one to be interred or inurned there, there is a waiting list for military funeral services, so make sure to schedule their service as soon as possible.
Medals for Military Funeral Honors
If you need medals or other awards to honor a deceased loved one’s military service, browse the large collection at Medals of America. If you’d like to receive more informative blogs like this one, sign up for emails today.