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Comrades in Arms: How to Plan a Funeral Service for Loved Ones Who Served in the Military

No matter which branch of the military your loved one served in, his or her service has meant everything to you-and to this country. Whenever your loved one was deployed or reassigned to a new base, you hoped that he or she would remain safe while on duty.

Whether your loved one died while on duty or he or she passed away after returning home from leave, you want to honor this family member in the best way possible. Your loved one dedicated his or her life to honorable and dedicated military service, and you want to plan a funeral that memorializes those qualities.

However, planning a military funeral can be quite difficult. There are regulations to follow, and each military member (whether a veteran or currently serving member), can be eligible to receive military honors at his or her burial.

Below, we provide you with information you need to properly and fully honor your loved one who served in the military.

1. Understand Public Law 106-65 and Funeral Qualifications

Before 2000, not many military personnel were honored with certain funeral rights when they passed away. Today, however, Public Law 106-65 of the National Defense Authorization Act guarantees that all military veterans and members on active reserve or active duty have the right to patriotic honors at their funerals.

Upon the family members' request, each eligible veteran or service member can receive these honors during the funeral service. To be eligible for these honors, the deceased must also have been honorably released from service.

If you wish to verify your loved one's eligibility for patriotic honors at his or her burial, visit the National Archives website and fill out DD Form 214.

2. Contact the Appropriate Individuals to Plan and Pay for the Service

To further honor your loved one for his or her service, the government and the Department of Veterans Affairs covers most expenses for the funeral.

If you choose to have your loved one buried in a national cemetery or a state veteran's cemetery, a funeral director can manage most of the arrangements for you. He or she can contact the proper individuals or organizations to ensure that the funeral expenses are covered.

If you'd prefer your loved one to be buried in a private cemetery, a funeral director can also help you make the arrangements. However, you usually have to pay for these expenses out of pocket and must see reimbursement. Complete and submit VA Form 21-530 on the Veteran's Affairs website to receive reimbursement.

3. Decide Which Service Will Best Honor Your Loved One

During the funeral service, your loved one can receive certain honors to commemorate his or her life and military service.

Standard Honor

During this service, a military chaplain will conduct the religious ceremony or funeral rites. The casket is covered with the US flag. Honor guards will stand by the casket and act as pallbearers. Once the ceremony has ended, the casket will then be transported to the burial site. Depending on the branch of the military your loved one served in, an aerial flyover may take place.

A rifle party that consists of three to seven individuals will stand in formation near the casket and burial site and fire a three-volley salute to honor your loved one's military service and accomplishments. Finally, a bugler will stand between 30 and 50 yards away from the burial site and perform "Taps" as a final salute.

Full Honor

In a full honor service, military members receive all the honors of a standard honor service. However, they are awarded a few additional honors. For commanding officers who rank as a Colonel, Captain, or above, a caparisoned, riderless horse follows the caissons and limbers in the procession to symbolize and honor a fallen leader.

For general officers and flag officers of four-star rank, a 17-gun salute is fired after the service. Officers of three-star rank receive a 15-gun salute, officers of two-star rank receive a 13-gun salute, and officers of one-star rank receive an 11-gun salute. Additionally, an escort platoon and military band participate in the honors.

4. Dress Your Loved One Accordingly

Your loved one may have requested that he or she be buried in military uniform. He or she should be dressed in his or her service uniform with the proper shoes, medals, ribbons, badges, insignia, and decorations he or she earned.

5. Ask Fellow Servicemen to Dress in Uniform

If your loved one's fellow officers, superiors, and other military members will attend the funeral, ask them to wear their service uniforms and appropriate decorations. However, not just anyone can wear their uniforms to the funeral service.

Those who have retired, are on active duty or reserve, and those who have been honorably discharged are authorized to don military regalia.

As you plan your loved one's burial, keep the above-listed information in mind. You'll also want to work closely with a funeral director or staff member to ensure that your loved one who served in the military receives military honors at his or her burial.

For more information about planning a funeral and making the proper arrangements before the service, contact Elmwood Cemetery Memorials.

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