What To Expect At a Funeral with Full Military Honors
When attending a military funeral for someone with full military honors, you might not know what to expect. Here's the rundown on what typically happens.
First, to receive full military funeral honors, the deceased must be either an active member of the military or reserves or a former military member who did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The deceased must also have served on active duty or completed at least one term of enlistment or obligated service in the reserves. In addition, all service members who die because of enemy action are eligible for full military honors.
A funeral with full military honors is provided free of charge to anyone who meets these qualifications. In fact, the rendering of full military honors is mandated by law.
Specifications for a funeral with full military honors
At a minimum, full military honors consist of:
- An honor guard detail with two or more members of the armed forces. One member of the detail represents the parent of the deceased.
- The honor guard detail performing a ceremony that includes the folding and presenting of the U.S. burial flag, which is officially made for veterans, measuring 5 by 9 ½ inches and including a canvas duck cloth header, to the next of kin. The flag is folded into a triangle, representing the three-pointed hat worn by soldiers in the American Revolution. The parent representative in the detail does this presentation and recites these words: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your love one's honorable and faithful service."
- The playing of "Taps."
Funerals with full military honors typically take place at outdoor committal structures, rather than actual gravesites. They may take place at a veterans national cemetery.
Certain military funerals may also include:
- An escort platoon
- A military band
- A caisson, or a chest used to carry ammunition
- A colors team
- A rifle team
- A 21-gun salute
Points of etiquette on saluting
When attending a military funeral, remember that there is a rule forbidding civilians from saluting soldiers. A salute is a greeting from one active service member or veteran to another. If you are a member of the armed forces, you should wear your dress uniform if possible and salute at the appropriate times, including:
- When the hearse passes in front of you
- Whenever the casket is moved
- While "Taps" is played
- During a gun salute
- While the casket is being lowered into the ground
- While the flag passes by, following a cremation urn
Civilians can show their respect by removing their hats and placing them over their hearts. They can also place their hands over their hearts. They should take these actions whenever a salute is called for, as noted above.
Attendees at a military funeral should remain standing for the duration of the service, except when instructed to do so by the presider or when a religious figure is reading the committal service. Immediate family members should be seated or standing at the front of the assembly.
Verifying and requesting full military honors
Eligibility for a funeral with full military honors can be proven using either of these methods:
- The DD Form 214, available online from the National Archives.
- Any official discharge document.
Families of veterans can request military funeral honors through their funeral directors, who will contact the appropriate military service to arrange the honors detail. Funeral directors can also help with any federal or state burial benefits for veterans.