Honoring Our Heroes: Military Funeral Traditions and Customs
Whether on active duty or in the reserves, all Veterans and military members are eligible for military funeral honors to be performed at their funeral service.
These military funeral traditions are intended to honor the deceased’s service and be carried out with care by at least two military members, known as an honor guard detail, free of charge. These honors can be requested for eligible Veterans through a funeral director.
Military Funeral Honors
Military funeral honors are carried out by the deceased’s branch of service and can be performed in a military or private cemetery. Typically, the funeral honors will include a casket team of pallbearers, a firing party, a bugler, and the folding and presentation of the burial flag, the Arlington National Cemetery writes.
Additional funerary honors may be included depending on the deceased’s rank, if they are a Medal of Honor Recipient, were a prisoner of war, or were killed in action.
According to the Arlington National Cemetery, Veterans who meet these qualifications will receive military funeral honors with an escort, a military band, and a marching element of varying sizes depending on rank.
Following military funeral traditions, regardless of rank, the honors will be performed in a specific order, beginning with the arrival of the casket to the burial site.
Once the casket team secures the casket, the Arlington National Cemetery writes, the burial flag is stretched taut above the coffin, then lowered and secured.
Once the chaplain completes their service, the non-commissioned officer-in-charge and the officer-in-charge initiate the rifle volley, followed by a playing of Taps. The family is then asked to be seated as the casket team leader initiates the flag folding and presentation.
According to Military OneSource, the gun salute began as a naval tradition to signify a warship’s non-hostile intent by harmlessly firing all cannons until no ammunition was left.
Over the years, the tradition evolved into the 21-gun salute to honor U.S. presidents and former presidents. The number of rifles decreases with every rank below the president. For example, four-star Army generals will receive a 17-gun salute.
At military funerals, the three-rifle volley is performed by three to seven riflemen who fire three volleys, the American Legion writes. Traditionally, three fired cartridges are placed inside the folded flag before it’s presented to a family member.
The Sounding of Taps
Taps is a somber melody played on a bugle that has been used to honor fallen service members since the Civil War, Military.com writes.
According to Military OneSource, Taps was officially recognized by the U.S. Army in 1874. By 1891, it was the new standard to play Taps at funeral ceremonies, and by 2013, it was finally legislated as the “National Song of Military Remembrance.”
During military funerals, Taps is either played live, with a ceremonial bugle – a device containing a recording of Taps placed inside a bugle – or through a high-quality recording on a stereo.
Flag Folding and Presentation
Two military service members perform the ceremonial flag folding and presentation after the sounding of Taps. Draped over the casket, the two service members lift the flag and fold it 13 times into a triangle, neatly displaying six of the 50 white stars.
The folded flag is then presented by one of the service members to the deceased’s spouse, parent or child. Many people choose to later display the flag in a triangular military funeral flag display.
While the symbolism behind why the flag is folded 13 times into a triangle is lost to time, it is done carefully to honor the life and sacrifices made by the deceased in their service to the military.
Military Funeral Etiquette
Titan Casket offers advice regarding military funeral etiquette and customs and helps you understand how family, friends, and guests should behave and dress when honoring your loved one who served in the military.
Help Planning Military Funerals
Titan Casket is here to help guide you through this challenging period as you plan your Veteran’s funeral. We are happy to speak with you about the casket that best suits your needs, whether you are seeking a special steel casket for your Army Veteran or something else to honor them.
We are your trusted ally in planning the funeral you want at an affordable, fair price. Contact us via our chat window or here on our contact page to get started.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the significance of the 21-gun salute at military funerals?
Answer: The 21-gun salute is a long-standing military tradition that represents a final farewell to the fallen.
- Are military funerals only for veterans?
Answer: While military funerals are often associated with veterans, they can also be arranged for active-duty service members.