Anyone that has ever served in the U. S. Military and has been honorably discharged is entitled to Military Honors at their funeral. Funeral homes and planners are supposed to inform next of kin while making arrangements, but many don’t. They are normally performed by the local VFW, Am Vets and representatives of the branch of service the individual served in. They are also entitled to a flag.
Not all VFW groups follow the same procedure so I’ll take you through ours. We always bring and set up at least two flags; the branch of service they served in, i.e. U.S. Navy flag and the era flag of when they served, i.e. WW II, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Yes this is done, usually at the grave site and during all 12 months of the year. We try to have six people with rifles, a sergeant at arms to call what we do and a bugler. We line up three across from one another so that the casket and mourners can pass through. We begin at “Parade Rest” go to “Ten Hut” (attention), then “Port Arms” and “Present Arms” just before the casket passes between us. After the last mourner passes between us we go back to “Order Arms”, “Post Arms” and “Fallout”
After we fall out we change location and get in position to fire our three round volleys in perfect unison. It’s supposed to sound like just one shot each of the three times we fire. We line up so that we can fire over the casket or urn. This is a tradition to open a path for the deceased to enter into heaven. We begin at “Parade Rest”, go to “Ten Hut”, “Prepare To Fire”, (just as the flag is completely opened and is being held over the casket or urn), then fire three rounds on the command of our Sergeant At Arms. (we use M-14’s). We then go to “Order Arms” and “Present Arms”. Three seconds after the last round is fired the bugler begins taps. When taps has ended the branch service representatives fold the flag and present it to next of kin with a thank you for the deceased’s service to our country and a slow military salute. At this point we go to “Order Arms”. Two of our VFW members then break ranks and present next of kin with a commemorative coin for their branch of service and another member presents them with a small velvet bag with seven spent rounds in it. Both people thank the next of kin for their loved one’s service to our country and do what we call the very slow honor salute. They return to ranks and “At Ease” is called followed by “Fall Out”. Next we very quietly hunt for spent shells and leave the area for a few minutes before we go back and take down our flags.
It usually takes from two to three hours to do this, including getting there and back. We do not get compensated for doing this and all of us feel honored just to participate in this final tribute to a fellow Veteran.. The thanks we get from the spouses, children and friends of the deceased is worth more than all the money in the world. The sad part is that we do at least one a week and we‘re just one of many VFW Posts throughout Wisconsin and the United States. Thursday we did one for a Korean Era Vet and today we did one for a Vietnam Navy Vet. Doing these is never easy and always reminds me that we all have a limited time in this earthly body, especially when it is someone my age or even younger. I am just thankful that I am still physically able to participate in this final tribute to my fellow vets. Please remember to thank vets for their service and VFW members for the many things they do for their fellow vets and their communities. If you are a vet and don’t belong to a post please give it some thought. The ranks are diminishing as we loose many WW II and Korean Vets daily. You can be against war and still be supportive of our troops who sacrifice so much for this country.
God Bless America, our troops, their families and our vets.