A Serviceman's Final Salute


The military funeral is unlike any other service in the world. While most of us are aware of the honors and services given at the graveside, the military process begins as soon as the tragedy occurs. Within 12 hours, the United States Military sends a Death Notification team to the family of the fallen hero. Then between the hours of 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. comes the knock at the door that is portrayed in so many movies. Two service members in full dress uniform, a chaplain and another service member solemnly stand at the entry to the home of one of their brethren. The Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (CACO) makes the solemn report to the family.  The United States Armed Forces regrets to report that your service member has been killed in the line of duty. The chaplain and CACO do their best to comfort a family whose future has been shattered. A once vibrant family now grieves as the notification team departs, their lives changed forever.

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Contact does not stop there, as a military bereavement team soon contacts the family. There is talk of the service member's insurance, death benefits and gratuities. The aggrieved family prepares to pay their final respects. A chaplain maintains contact with the family for as long as they require services. The service member's remains return to the States through Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, where a Carry Guard, chaplain, and any attending family members greet and honor the return of the fallen hero, and personal effects are transferred to the family. The remains are processed and prepared by the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center. The member is clothed in their full-dress uniform and placed in a special aluminum case bearing the United States Armed Services Honor Cover that is embossed with an American flag, and the Defense Department seal. The military escort and the deceased are given a direct flight to the closest airport to where the member will be interred.

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The military funeral is not one to be forgotten. Military funerals are steeped in honor, tradition, and a great dignity. The Department of Defense does not take lightly the passing of a service member, bringing all due honors for those who have given their lives to protect the American Dream. The flag draped casket arrives to the cemetery by hearse or horse drawn caisson on the morning of the burial. Then a six-man honor guard removes the casket from the hearse, proceeding to the grave site. A committal service is then given by the chaplain (or family pastor/rabbi/priest.)

Perhaps the most iconic procedures of the military funeral come next, as the Honor Guard then lifts the American flag from the casket, and the firing team fires three volleys. The 21 Gun Salute has been a staple of the military funeral, traditionally three spent shells are retrieved from the volley to be returned to the next of kin. A bugler then sounds the final sacred call, Taps. With great care, the honor guard folds the Memorial flag. The highest-ranking officer then receives the American flag from the honor guard and presents it to the family with a few words of appreciation and recognition of the family's loss. The funeral then concludes, and the three spent shells are tucked into a case and given to the primary next of kin to be kept with the flag. These shells embody Duty, Honor, and Country, the very things that this service member's life grew to represent.

The passing of a service member is a grievous time. While these honors, traditions and courtesies will not bring the service member back, the American Nation mourns the loss of every American veteran.

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