When an honorably discharged veteran or active member of the United States Military passes away, he or she is entitled to several special memorial honors provided by the US Government during a memorial service. Though all branches of the US military go through a significant amount of trouble and expense making sure their members and their families know what honors they can expect, confusion still can sometimes erupt at the time of need. While this article should not be taken as a substitute for a consultation with an experienced funeral director or a representative of the government, it does aim to help clear up some of the confusion surrounding just what families can expect at a military funeral for their loved one.
Basic Military Funeral Traditions:
In a nutshell, the Defense Authorization Act of 2000 specifies what the government must do and provide for veterans and active duty military upon their death. This law (PL 106-65) is quiet lengthy and confusing for an amateur to understand, so a careful review of it – perhaps with the assistance of an attorney – is beneficial for any family with the time resources. The law spells out special requirements for special cases, so knowing what exactly a family can expect for its military funeral can be a complex affair, depending upon the decease’s circumstances at his or her time of death.
Alas, there are a few common traditions that are entitled to be put on display at all memorial services for veterans or active duty U.S. soldiers, no matter their circumstances or those of their families. We summarize those in this section of this article:
Each deceased service member or former service member is entitled to the presence of a military honor guard detail at his or her memorial ceremony. This detail is required by U.S. law to consist of at least 2 active duty members of the U.S. armed forces, and at least one member of the detail must be from the same branch in which the deceased served. This detail is required to present a specially sized burial flag to the official next of kin of the deceased and arrange for the playing of the famous memorial tune Taps by either a single trumpet player or via audio recording.
It is worth noting here that the law specifically allows for National Guard troops and/or members of a reserve unit to serve on a military honor guard at a funeral. Further, it is important to note that these honors are all contingent upon a request from the family unless such a request is specifically spelled out in writing ahead of time by the deceased. Without a request, the military will not serve in the capacity described here.
Extras for a Military Funeral:
The above honors are admittedly vague and leave plenty of room for military officials to make adjustments as necessary to appropriately honor a veteran or active duty service member according to his or her circumstances. The specifics of any request are administered by a federal program called “Honoring Those Who Served” which is run by the United States Army Military District of Washington. (It is worth noting that, while this agency is, officially, part of the Army, it includes personnel, even in its leadership, from all branches of the U.S. military.)
Among the options that the Military District of Washington can utilize at a military funeral are a rifle squad firing a ceremonial volley across a casket or grave side, the appearance of a drum corp and other musicians performing patriotic salutes, and the draping of a flag over a coffin. There are also options that can be utilized in the event that a deceased veteran or active duty military personnel has been cremated.
Who receives Military Funerals:
As we have said, military funerals are provided free-of-charge for all honorably discharged veterans or active duty military personnel, and the basic benefits described in the first section are available universally to all soldiers, no matter their rank or the amount of time served. A few of the added traditions and honors spelled out in federal law are indeed dependent upon rank and time served, and their administration is to be overseen by the Military District of Washington.
Most of the differences in how soldiers are honored at their passing are related to financial benefits paid to family members. Active service members who die as a result of their service receive, understandably, the largest level of financial benefits, followed by active members. Veterans typically receive the lowest level of financial benefits at their death, but the United States is well known across the world for being among the best at making sure all of its deceased military personnel are honored with dignity and grace. Families with questions about what, exactly, the United States government will pay for (or reimburse) in the memorial service for their family should contact a representative of the Veterans Administration. Most funeral directors today are also fairly well versed in what benefits the U.S. government provides.
Military Funerals across the World:
While the United States is considered a (and perhaps the) world wide leader on this matter of honoring its deceased nearly every other country in the world with an organized military does make some sort of special effort to provide dignified burial and other services for its deceased soldiers. Differences abound on matters such as whether former service members or just active duty soldiers are entitled to such honors. But, it’s been generally noted by many experts that most countries are making strides toward following the U.S. model of universal benefits for all soldiers – former and current.