Understanding the Military Funeral
Tradition, honor, and dignity are paramount to a military funeral. Most of the ceremonial aspects are usually performed at the grave site and oftentimes an honor guard may be present to take part in the service.
Whether at a national cemetery or at a private service, each member of the honor guard has a specific role that has been rehearsed. Every detail of the ceremony is carried out with cadence and precision. Salutes are performed in slow motion showing honor and sacrifice to a life given in service.
National Cemetery Services
If you are in attendance at a national cemetery, you can expect to see the following elements being performed at a military grave site service.
- The flag-draped casket arrives at the cemetery by hearse or horse-drawn caisson.
• A six-man honor guard carries the casket to the grave site.
• The chaplain or pastor (if applicable) reads a committal service.
• The honor guard lifts and holds the American flag taut over the casket.
• The seven-person firing party fires three volleys. A spent shell may be picked up and later tucked into the folded memorial flag.
• A bugler sounds “Taps.”
• The honor guard ceremonially folds the American flag.
• The highest ranking officer presents the folded flag to the family with a brief statement of gratitude and a salute
A private service can be less formal and still have military honors with an honor guard from the local VA rather than from a military base. If an honor guard is not available, a representative from the funeral home may handle these duties or enlist assistance. The honor guard will play “Taps” and present a folded American flag to the family.
What to Wear
Military funeral protocols are formal ceremonies. Military personnel should wear their appropriate dress uniform, which is typically the Class-A uniform. Military mess dress is not appropriate for a funeral.
Family members and friends should plan to dress respectfully as you would when attending a traditional church service. Civilian men should wear a suit and tie, or slacks and a button-up shirt and tie. Civilian women should wear a dress, suit, or skirt and blouse, or nice pants and a blouse. Wearing jeans, shorts, t-shirts, and athletic clothing is strongly discouraged. Plan to wear comfortable dress shoes as the services could tend run a longer than a regular funeral service.