Honoring those who served, and those who serve America's fallen Veterans
On any given day, thousands of military funeral
ceremonies take place across the country. They are filled
with the pomp and circumstance typically associated with
graduations and other rites-of-passage, but instead of festivity, the atmosphere is one of respect and reflection.
Soldiers stand at attention. In the distance, a bugler
sounds the bittersweet notes of “Taps.” With precision, a
U.S flag is folded into a symbolic tri-cornered shape and
then presented to the Family on behalf of a grateful nation.
It’s only right that Veterans should receive such a reverent
and fitting send-off on their final journey.
Honoring those who served
The rendering of military funeral honors is our country’s
way of showing respect and gratitude to those who, in times
of war and peace, faithfully defended this nation.
However, until 10 years ago, some Veterans weren’t
receiving proper ceremonies. The reason: Since 1997,
the number of funeral honors requests has steadily
increased—in part due to the aging of a generation of
Soldiers who served during WWII and the Korean War.
Yet, as requests rose, the manpower available to assist
with the services decreased, creating one of the military’s
most challenging domestic missions.
To correct this dilemma, in 1999, Congress approved
Public Law 106-65, which provided that, upon a Family’s
request, every eligible Veteran would receive a respectful
and dignified tribute. Congress also authorized both the
National Guard and Veterans Service Organizations to
perform the ceremonies under the Department of Defense
program, “Honoring Those Who Served.”
Currently, the National Guard assists with 79 percent of
Army funeral honors and 51 percent of all services combined.
Military funeral honors may be a national program, but
each state is responsible for overseeing funding, training
and implementing its services.
In Georgia, three full-time and nine part-time teams
handle funeral honors requests. “Our Soldiers stretch
the borders of the state and can react in a timely manner
to the needs of our Veterans and their Families,” said
1SG Bryan Hise, Georgia National Guard Military Funeral
He estimates that his Soldiers will support approximately
1,600 services this year—800 more than 2008.
“We will not shortchange the standard in order to meet
the increased need,” he emphasized. “We will work harder
and train more.”
The Ohio National Guard program is composed of seven
full- and part-time teams, divided into five regional areas.
“Each year that the program has grown, we have increased
the number of Soldiers involved,” said Robert L. King, Ohio’s
State Military Funeral Honors Coordinator.
King is proud of his teams and rightly so. In 2008, they
fulfilled 4,140 requests, an increase of 500 from the
Instead of teams, Kentucky utilizes Soldiers at the unit
“In addition to our own resources, we work closely with
Veterans service organizations to ensure that all requests are honored and supported,” MAJ Lance Grebe, Kentucky National Guard Plans Officer, Military Support, told
Proud to serve
In order to provide a professional tribute to fallen service members, Soldiers who participate in honors ceremonies must meet a demanding set of standards and be prepared to perform perfectly at every event.
Applicants first have to pass a physical fitness test and then successfully complete the 40-hour Military Funeral Honors training course.
These courses cover required performance measures such as the two-, three-, and six-man flag fold; proper presentation; remarks and movements; firing party detail; pallbearing; and uniform preparation.
In addition, Soldiers must possess the self-discipline and fortitude to properly conduct ceremonies, which
at times includes standing perfectly still in any weather conditions.
“I am proud of the Soldiers that every day … go to work in the rain, sleet, ice, snow and extreme heat, and stand vigilant to properly and professionally honor their fallen
comrades,” King said.
However, the high standards are not a deterrent to recruiting new service members into the program.
“We ask for unit participation, and there has never been a shortage of volunteers,” Grebe said.
SGT Joshua Meadors, of the Kentucky National Guard, is one such exemplary volunteer. Asked to participate last March, Meadors sees his role as “an opportunity to
support our fallen troops and give something back to the Families.”
Part of Meadors’ training included a 14-day course at the Military Funeral Honors School in Camp Robinson, AR.
“[The training] was an intense, tightly regimented experience … and just as demanding as
the Army’s Air Assault School,” Meadors said.
SSG Michelle White, Ohio National Guard Coordinator,
SW Military Funeral Honors team, believes she has one of
the greatest jobs in the Guard: “It’s a privilege and honor to
pay tribute to Soldiers who’ve given so much to our nation.”
Although military funeral honors are rendered as a tribute
to service members who have died, they also serve the
Families left behind.
In 2003, Lynn Romans’ son, SGT Darrin K. Potter, was
Kentucky’s first Army National Guard combat casualty
since the Vietnam War.
Before and after Darrin’s service, Lynn and her Family
received guidance and support from the Kentucky National
Guard funeral honors personnel.
“The Guard was right there for my Family, walking us
through the procedures. Any time I had a question, someone was at my side with an answer,” she said.
Due to the outpouring of support Lynn received six
years ago, she has since made it her personal mission to
attend other Kentucky Soldiers’ memorials. “I make it a
point to talk to the mothers and tell them that this is a
very honorable loss,” Lynn said.
In January, on a bitterly cold day, Almut Halscheidt
attended the burial service of her father-in-law, Army
Veteran John Milakovich. She was impressed with the professionalism of the funeral honors team.
After the flag folding, the team members went out
of their way to escort the flag to her husband, who was
wheelchair-bound and waiting in their car, a considerable
“The honors were very touching, and we appreciated the
three Soldiers being there,” Halscheidt said.
The honoring of our fallen Soldiers is important to so
many people on so many levels.
For the Veteran, funeral honors are an affirmation of their
service to the country.
For the Family, there is closure, combined with acknowledgment of the service rendered by their loved one.
For the attending Soldiers, there is the chance to show
their respect for fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms.
For the Nation, it is one final salute to those who have
sacrificed to ensure our individual rights and collective
freedom. May we always remember our fellow Veterans.
Last year, more than 1,700 military funeral
honors took place daily. Of those, approximately 1,100
were for WWII Veterans.
The Ohio National Guard Military Funeral Honors teams
performed 1,471 funeral honors in 2004. Four years later
that number jumped nearly 300 percent.
Georgia averages between 140 and 160 services per
Who’s Eligible for Military Funeral Honors?
• Military members on active duty or in the Selected
• A former military member who served on active duty
and 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 discharge.
• Former military members discharged from the Selected
Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the
line of duty.
Military Funeral Honors Minimum Requirements:
• A detail consisting of two or more uniformed service
members, including at least one Soldier of the Veteran’s
• The folding and presenting of the U.S. flag to the next
• The sounding of “Taps,” the military’s bugle call to signal