Many of you are familiar with funerals featuring military honors,but you may not know why it is done, who is eligible for these honors, how to request this service, who provides this service, how much it costs, and what the ceremony entails.
The Department of Defense defines military funeral honors as “the ceremonial paying of respect and the final demonstration of the country’s gratitude tothose who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended our Nation.”
Deceased veterans who are eligible for military honors include:
• Military members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve.
• Former military members 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.
• Former military members discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.
Honors are not performed automatically; families ofeligible veterans mustrequest funeral honors through their funeral director, who will contact the appropriate organization.The family must produce the veteran’s DD214 or similar separation/discharge document proving that the veteran is eligible for the honor. Because funerals are stressful for families, if you are a veteran and plan on receiving a military burial, please inform your spouse, children, or other survivors of your intentions. Have your documentation ready in advance and in a safe, easily-accessible place.
In our area, military funeral honors are provided by the Limestone Veterans Burial Detail. This service is provided by the detail free of charge to the families of eligible veterans.Local funeral homes will contact the detail after receiving proof of eligibility and request for the service. The burial detail will typically travel to funerals within a 100-mile radius of Limestone County.
The military ceremony traditionallyincludes – three volleys of shots fired in honor of the deceased veteran, the playing of Taps, andthe folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin. Each part of the ceremony is reminiscent of military customs and rituals.
The firing of three volleys comes from traditional battle ceasefires where each side would take time to clear the dead from the battlefield. The shots indicated that the dead were cleared and properly cared for.This began the custom of firing three volleys over the grave of fallen comrades.
The playing of Taps originally was composed for the military to signal “lights out” at day’s end. The somber tune became a tradition at military funerals to honor the extinguishing of a life.
The American flag is draped over the closed casket with the blue field of stars over the left shoulder. At the proper moment, the flag is removed, then folded with 13 folds until it is the shape of a triangle with only the field of blue showing, and then respectfully handed to the next of kin.
The Limestone Veterans Burial Detailwas formed in the 1990s and has provided services for thousands of local veterans since then. There are times when the group has had a funeral a day for a week, other times two or three a day,or periods of a week or two with no funerals.
Usually, eleven members are needed for a funeral. Over the years, members have moved away, become physically incapacitated, or, sadly, passed away. New members are welcomed to join. You do not have to be a veteran, just a patriotic American who is physically able to perform the necessary duties, has the time to commit, and is willing to serve when called.
While there is no charge for burial detail services, the group does have expenses which are only paid for by your tax-free donations. Some expenses include the purchase of uniforms, weapons upkeep, ammunition, and travel. Anyone may make a tax-free donation to the burial detailby depositing into their account at Regions Bank or by check to Limestone Veterans Burial Detail, 18188 Mooresville Rd., Athens, AL 35613.
Despite the searing heat of summer, the biting cold of winter, or the deluge of a rainstorm, the members of the Limestone Veterans Burial Detail are there to honor those who bravely served our country and proudly pay their respect to those heroes and their families.
By: Yvonne Dempsey
Limestone Veterans Burial Detail member and Alabama Veterans Museum volunteer