While members of the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation are often modest about their role in American history, accepting military honors is something many of them will take great pride in. Offering to make arrangements on behalf of the veteran in your family may open up opportunities for rich conversation about a time that may otherwise be difficult to talk about.
When the time comes, most of the actual arrangements will be handled by the funeral director at the family’s request, but it can be helpful to do some planning ahead of time.
Confirm the wishes
Your first step is to make sure the veteran in your family is in fact interested in having military honors rendered at his funeral. Military honors vary somewhat by service branch, but typically the components include:
- A flag draped over the casket
- An honor guard of at least two service people, one of which represents the branch of the honoree
- A three-volley rifle salute
- Folding and presentation of the flag to the next of kin
- The playing of Taps
As a veteran, your relative may have the option of being laid to rest in a VA National Cemetery or a State Veterans Cemetery. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides convenient lists of national cemeteries as well as state cemeteries. While grave sites in national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance, it is recommended that you at least have a conversation with the preferred cemetery before their services are needed. Cemetery staff can explain the different service options available.
Collect the paperwork
Make sure you know where the veteran in your family keeps his military papers, so you can access them when you need them. You’ll need to verify eligibility for military honors by showing discharge papers (DD Form 214). If the veteran in your family already has a file of military paperwork, it makes sense to continue keeping DD Form 214 in that file, though you may want to make a copy to keep in a “funeral planning” file as well.
If DD Form 214 is not available, you can obtain another one by filling out a Standard Form 180 and mailing it to:
National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)
9700 Page Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63132
Consult the experts
Your local funeral director can be a valuable resource, and most are happy to help you make plans long before they are needed. A quick phone call can reassure you about how simple the process is and how meaningful military honors can be.
In addition, government websites offer a lot of information that you can browse at your convenience:
- Military Funeral Honors is a site sponsored by the Department of Defense.
- Arlington National Cemetery has posted information about the types of ceremonies they perform.
- The Army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, has posted a downloadable PDF with information about various military customs.
Start the conversation
Having a conversation now with your parents or grandparents who served in the military can deepen your relationship and give you both a sense of pride and preparedness.
And helping make arrangements for military honors may become a way to express gratitude for service that extends beyond military duty and characterizes a whole life.