Military honors services for veterans and active duty military is one way to show total respect to them for serving their country. Honorably discharged veterans deserve honor services once they have passed. There is no time frame for services to be provided; they can take place at the time of death or days, months and even years later. Services may be requested to be provided at their funeral/celebration of life, burial or other appropriate event.
Funeral homes, especially those in Delaware County, will ask if the deceased is a veteran. If they are, the funeral home will ask if military honors services are desired. Should the family answer yes to both, the funeral home will ask what level of services they would like and make the request on the family’s behalf. There is no charge for military honors services from active duty military or Honor Guard units in Delaware County. There are currently two Honor Guard units in Delaware County: Delaware County Veterans Association (DCVA) and Vietnam Veterans of America – Chapter 1095 (VVA1095).
If military honor services are desired at a later date, they may be requested through the funeral home or contact Delaware County Veterans Services. The Veterans Service Office (VSO) will provide contact information for the Honor Guard units in Delaware County. Honor guards in Delaware County provide services year round, regardless of weather. On rare occasion, there may be conflicts that do not allow for Honor Guard participation. The VSO will answer your questions and provide additional assistance if requested.
There is a Department of Defense protocol for military honors services that is followed. Military honors services are usually at the end of funeral services or last at the grave side. Occasionally, military may be requested to start the service. So as not to change or disrupt the DOD protocol, VVA1095 Honor Guard presents a reading at the start of the military honors services.
A burial flag may be obtained from the funeral home. The flag is provided by the DOD at no cost. If a funeral home is not involved, a flag may be picked up from the United States Post Office. To obtain one from the post office, present them with a copy of the death certificate and the veteran’s DD-214.
Military honors services for veterans are provided by two or three active service members of the veteran’s military service branch. The military provides a minimum of two service members. The active duty military fold and present the flag and usually play “Taps.” The Honor Guard provides the rifle volley. Should active military not be able to attend, the Honor Guard will perform the entire military honors service.
A grave flag holder with flags is provided by the VSO and presented by the Honor Guard. The flag holder contains a brass plaque that contains the era in which the veteran served. A military branch name plate is attached to the flag holder shaft. If the veteran has a Purple Heart, a brass emblem will also be attached to the shaft. The grave flag holder is to designate specific military information about the veteran at the grave site.
Military honors services begin with the firing of a three-shot rifle volley. An odd number (3, 5 or 7) of rifles are fired. When seven rifles are fired, many people mistake it for a 21-gun salute. After the rifle volley, the Honor Guard goes to present arms (salute.) Once at present arms, “Taps” is played. After “Taps” (the Honor Guard usually goes to parade rest), the United States flag is then folded into a triangle (with the blue star field on the outside) and presented to the designated recipient. Total silence is maintained during the folding of the flag. Spent shell casing are then gathered at the end of the service and presented to the flag recipient, along with the flag holder and reading.
There are a few items on display at the service to help honor the veteran. An American flag and military service flag of the veteran’s service are displayed on poles. If the veteran served in a combat zone, a combat/battlefield cross is displayed. The cross is made using rifle, bayonet, helmet, boots and dog tags. The equipment used by VVA1095 for the cross is based on the era/time frame the veteran served in the combat zone.
There is no specific set number of Honor Guard members required for a military honors service. You can never have too few or too many Honor Guard members present. Even though there is a DOD protocol and certification for military honors services, there is no wrong way to honor a veteran; as long as it is done with full honor and total respect. Ultimately, the family’s request is what needs to be honored and respected.
Honorably discharged veterans may request to be buried in a national cemetery at no cost. Their spouse may also be buried with them at a national cemetery at no cost. Certain criteria for combat veterans may allow them to request to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Generally, a valor level medal must have been received to request Arlington.
Active duty military service members that are Killed-In-Action (KIA) have additional options. They may receive full active duty military honors. This means the Honor Guard is provided by the military along with the flag folder, presenter and “Taps” player. Active duty KIA may be buried in any national cemetery, including Arlington.
A brass grave marker that may be mounted in the ground or back of headstone may also be requested form the Veterans Administration. The brass grave marker is approximately 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide. The marker can contain veteran’s name, years of service, era of service, branch and unit of service, religious symbol, and possibly other information. There is no charge for the plaque. Cemeteries handle the mounting of plaques with their requirements. Funeral homes will assist with obtaining the plaque. You may also go on the VA’s website (va.gov), type in a search for “grave marker” and a link to request one will be displayed.
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.