As Americans, there are many privileges and freedoms that we are able to enjoy because of the hard work and dedication by the members of our military. Those who are brave enough to serve, are true heroes willing to make many sacrifices to defend our nation and make life better for those at home. Because of the immense bravery displayed by these men and women, we honor their passing with a military funeral.
When compared to a traditional funeral, the funeral service for a member of our military is deservingly more formal. If you or a loved one will be responsible for planning a military funeral or just attending one, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know.
Planning A Military Funeral
When a member of the military is separated, is charged from active duty, or retires from one of the various branches of the military, they receive a DD Form 214. This form is used to verify that a person was indeed a military service member and eligible to receive veteran benefits.
In order to plan a military funeral that includes funeral honors, this form must be presented to the funeral director before the arrangement process can begin. Once the funeral director receives the form, they will verify its authenticity. Following this step, the funeral director will then contact the appropriate Military Service to request funeral honors and begin the arrangement process.
If you would like to request a copy or learn more about DDForm 214, please click here.
Determining Military Funeral Eligibility
In order to be eligible for military funeral honors, the following requirements must be met.
Active duty military personnel or in the Selected Reserve.
Former active duty military members who departed under conditions other than dishonorable.
Former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.
Former military personnel discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.
Elements Included With A Military Funeral
Every military personnel deemed eligible to receive funeral honors are entitled to receive the following honors:
Flag folding and presentation
Playing of Taps by a bugler (if available) or a high-quality recording.
Depending upon the rank, status and, occupation of the deceased, they may be eligible to receive additional funeral honors. Due to the high volume of burials and limited personnel available, many of these elements are often reserved for high ranking officers or those who die during active duty.
The additional elements include:
Military Funeral Etiquette
Much like a traditional funeral, there are many funeral etiquette rules and expectations that you are expected to follow when attending a military funeral. Depending if you are a civilian or military personnel, the rules of etiquette may differ. In either case, though, it’s important to understand the seriousness of the service. Remember, this is a time to show your utmost respect for a hero who has made many sacrifices for our nation.
A common misconception is that saluting at a military funeral is a show of respect. Although no rule exists stating civilians cannot salute, it is best to leave this to former and active military personnel. There are certain times when saluting is appropriate and other times where it could be deemed disrespectful. Rather than saluting, civilians are encouraged to remove their hat and place it or your hand over your heart.
As a member of the military, there are certain times you are expected to stand and salute. The only exception to this being if you are serving as a pallbearer. The following are times when it is expected you salute:
When the hearse carrying the deceased passes by you
Any time that the casket is being moved
During the playing of Taps
During a rifle salute
While the casket is being lowered into the ground
Anytime that you are honoring the life of a member of the military, it's important to look your best. Casual clothing like jeans, t-shirts or sweaters should be left at home as they will be considered disrespectful.
Both active and former members of the military should be dressed in their Class-A uniform which is commonly referred to as a Dress Uniform. A military funeral is not the time to wear your military mess dress.
Civilians are expected to dress in formal attire much like you would if you were attending a church service. Men should stick to dark colored suits or at the very least slacks, a dress shirt , and tie. Women should wear a dark dress, suit or skirt and blouse.
Much like any funeral service, seating closest to the front is reserved for immediate family members. If the service is being held at a cemetery, there may only be enough seating for the deceased’s immediate family. Other guests may have to stand behind them. The next-of-kin should be seated front and center as they will receive the folded American flag during the service.