PAYING OUR FINAL RESPECTS TO HONOR THEIR SERVICE Military funeral honors are a respectful way to show our country’s deepest gratitude to those brave men and women who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended our country. Funeral ceremonies provide a reminder to all U.S. citizens of the tremendous sacrifice each member of our military makes, as well as the final demonstration a grateful nation can provide to a grieving veteran’s family. NATIONAL CEMETERY LOCATIONS The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration maintains 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. There are no national cemeteries or soldiers’ lots in Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming. Burial in a national cemetery, including Arlington National Cemetery, is open to all members of the Armed Forces and veterans who have met minimum active duty service requirements and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Their spouse, widow or widower, minor children, and, under certain conditions, unmarried adult children with disabilities, may also be eligible for burial. Members of the reserve components of the Armed Forces who die while on active duty, while performing training duty, or were eligible for retired pay may also be eligible for burial. VA provides, at no cost to the veteran’s family, a national cemetery gravesite, headstone or marker, Presidential Memorial Certificate, U.S. flag, perpetual care of the gravesite and opening and closing of the grave. Members of the Ready Reserve or retired military personnel who participate in military funeral detail are eligible to receive allowances, travel, and transportation reimbursement. Ready Reserve personnel can also receive service credit for performing at military funerals. The veteran’s surviving family members are never charged for these services, and tipping is prohibited by law. ELIGIBILITY FOR MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), stipulates that military members who died while on active duty or in the Selected Reserve, former military members who served on active duty or in the Selected Reserve and were discharged under honorable condition, and former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and were discharged under honorable conditions are eligible for military funeral honors. Families of eligible veterans should request funeral honors through their funeral director. The funeral director will contact the appropriate military service to arrange for the funeral honors detail. Families in possession of their veteran loved ones’ cremains, who later desire to have a burial ceremony, may contact the appropriate military funeral honors coordinator who will assist in arranging for honors. HEADSTONES, MARKERS, AND MEDALLIONS The VA furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world. For eligible veterans who died on or after Nov. 1, 1990, and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone, the VA may also furnish a headstone or marker to supplement the grave or a medallion to be affixed to the privately purchased headstone. THE PLAYING OF ‘TAPS’ All military veterans are entitled to the playing of “Taps” at their military funeral. A live bugler is preferred; however, a quality recorded version may be used. With more than 1,800 veterans’ funerals per day and only 500 buglers in the Department of Defense, it is not possible to have a live bugler at the service of every veteran. To provide a more dignified alternative to a portable stereo, the DoD developed the Ceremonial Bugle, an electronic device that fits directly inside the bell portion of a bugle which contains a recording of Taps as performed during an actual ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. FLAG PRESENTATION AND FLAG FOLDING PROTOCOL Presenting a folded flag or draping a United States flag over the casket of a deceased veteran honors the memory of his or her service to our country. If opting to have the flag draped over a closed casket, the flag is placed on a closed casket so the union blue field is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. After Taps is played, the flag is meticulously folded into a tri-cornered shape and presented as a remembrance as the following words are said: “On behalf of the President of the United States, [the United States Army; the United States Marine Corps; the United States Navy, the United States Air Force, or the United States Coast Guard], and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” Burial flags are provided at no cost to the families of veterans and can be requested by your funeral director or by completing VA Form 27-2008 (Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes). You may also obtain a flag at any VA regional office or U.S. Post Office. The law allows issuance of one flag for a veteran’s funeral. It cannot be replaced by the VA if it is lost, destroyed, or stolen. BURIAL AT SEA A service member from any branch of service who was honorably discharged, civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command; and dependent family members of veterans are all eligible to be buried at sea. Burial at sea is a manner of final disposition of remains performed on United States Navy vessels. The interment ceremony is performed while the ship is deployed. Therefore, family members are not allowed to be present. The commanding officer of the ship assigned to perform the ceremony notifies the family of the date, time, and longitude and latitude after the committal service has been completed. A burial flag is required for all committal services performed for military veterans aboard Naval vessels. Following the services at sea, the flag that accompanied the cremains/remains may be presented to the next of kin or family member who requested the burial at sea. THE RIDERLESS HORSE The riderless horse is a powerful military symbol that stands among the highest honors for the fallen. The honor is typically reserved for officers with the rank of colonel or above. According to Army tradition, a ceremonial horse is led by a “cap walker” in a procession with boots set backward in the saddle’s stirrups. The boots facing backward symbolize that the fallen won’t ride again, and the rider is looking back on his family one last time. THREE-RIFLE VOLLEY AND 21-GUN SALUTE The three-rifle volley consists of no less than three and no more than seven rifles firing three volleys in memory of the fallen. Typically, three fired cartridges are placed into the folded flag prior to presentation to the next of kin; the cartridges signify duty, honor, and sacrifice. The national salute of 21 guns is fired in honor of a sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the president, ex-president and president-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a president, ex-president, or president-elect. Gun salutes are also rendered to other military and civilian leaders of this and other nations. The number of guns is based on their protocol rank. The salutes are always in odd numbers. LOCATING A GRAVE The Nationwide Gravesite Locator includes burial records from many sources. These sources provide information on veterans buried in national cemeteries, as well as private cemeteries where information was collected for the purpose of furnishing government grave markers. The American Battle Monuments Commission provides information on service members buried in cemeteries overseas. Arlington National Cemetery provides information on service members buried there and has even developed an application called the ANC Explorer that enables veterans, family members, and the public to locate gravesites, view front and back photos of headstones and monuments, and receive directions to grave locations. FLYING THE FLAG AT HALF-STAFF This gesture is a sign to indicate the nation mourns the death of an individual(s), such as death of the president or former president, vice president, Supreme Court justice, member of Congress, secretary of an executive or military department, etc. Only the United States president and state governors can order flags on government buildings to be flown at half-staff. However, the flag is at half-staff on Memorial Day from sunrise until noon; it is displayed at full-staff from noon until sunset. The flag should first be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position (one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff). CARE OF THE FLAG It is acceptable to wash or dry clean an American flag when it is soiled or otherwise dirty. You do not have to destroy a flag that has touched the ground. If it becomes dirty, the flag should be cleaned. When a flag is no longer serviceable or repairable, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, such as at a proper flag burning ceremony at your local American Legion post. • Do not let the flag touch the ground. Be sure the sticks/staff you use in cemeteries are long enough to ensure the flag does not touch the ground. Grave markers with flag rods are available. • Do not fly the flag upside down unless there is an emergency. • Do not carry the flag flat or carry things in it. • Do not use a U.S. flag as clothing. Flag-motif attire is not illegal. • Do not store the flag where it can get dirty. • Do not use the flag as a cover for anything except draping a casket. • Do not fasten it or tie the flag back. Always allow the flag to fall free. • Do not draw on, or otherwise mark the flag. WHAT A FUNERAL HONORS CEREMONY INCLUDES Military units are legally required to provide a two-person uniformed detail to present the core elements of the funeral honors ceremony, which includes flag folding, flag presentation, and the playing of “Taps.” The veteran’s parent service representative will present the flag to the next of kin. In rare cases, additional funeral honors may be provided, including pallbearers, a rifle detail, color guard, and even a caisson when appropriate, where people and resources are available. RULES FOR DECORATING GRAVESITES AND LAYING WREATHS IN NATIONAL CEMETERIES The rules for national and state cemeteries vary by location, however, here are the general guidelines which most adhere to: • Cut flowers may be placed on graves at any time. • Artificial flowers may be placed on the grave from Oct. 10 to April 15 and the 10-day period before and after Easter. • Potted plants may be placed on the grave 10 days prior to Easter and will be removed 10 days after Easter. • Christmas wreaths and other unbreakable Christmas decorated items may be placed on the grave beginning Dec. 1 and will be removed Jan. 31. • Flower removal will be weekly when they become unsightly or faded. Cemetery personnel will remove all unauthorized objects. • Permanent plants are not permitted in the burial area. Statues, vigil lights, glass objects, and other commemorative items are not permitted at any time. Floral items or decorations may not be secured to grave markers. Rules at local cemeteries are also generally rigid, so be sure to contact the cemetery prior to planning or executing any remembrance décor or services. Don’t let your gravesite flags touch the ground. Grave markers with flag rods are available from American Legion Flag & Emblem Sales at www.emblem.legion.org. Flags and additional flag accessories are also available from Martin’s Flag Co. at www.martinsflag.com. SUPPORT BY VETERANS SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS (VSOs) In accordance with military law, the military provides personnel in every instance in which eligible survivors request honors. In many communities, funeral directors contact VSOs such as The American Legion directly without seeking military personnel assistance. The American Legion participates in an overwhelming majority of VSO provided funeral honors. The American Legion reports that it has 4,000 color guards and 3,500 rifle squads and provides funeral honors at more than 110,000 military funerals each year. PROPER DISPLAY OF FLAG The Federal Flag Code says the PROPER DISPLAY OF FLAG universal custom is to display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. When a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. Also, the U.S. flag should not be displayed when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed. Public Law 94-344, known as the Federal Flag Code, contains rules for handling and displaying the U.S. flag. While the federal code contains no penalties for misusing the flag, states have their own flag codes and may impose penalties. The language of the federal code makes it clear that the flag is a living symbol. RESOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Sources for this feature include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense. Looking for more information on special funeral honors for veterans and service members? The following links can direct you to additional resources online. To request burial flags, visit www.cem.va.gov/cem/burial_benefits. Need to establish a veteran’s eligibility? Visit www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records. To see a list of national cemeteries, visit www.cem.va.gov. To find a military service coordinator, visit the respective website of the military branch of service in which your loved one served.
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