I have another funeral tomorrow.

This one is going to be a hard one, since I know the family. The deceased and my father were friends. They lived relatively close to us. I went to school with his kids. I can’t say I stayed in touch with any of them after I graduated, but still, there’s a personal connection there.

Military funerals have a couple of points in them where it’s hard to keep your composure. The first is the twenty-one gun salute. You can see the family jolt when the first shots ring out, even if they’re expecting it. You can hear the rifle team commands being shouted in the distance, so you know what’s coming. That’s normally waterworks #1.

The second is Taps, after the salute. The single bugle in the distance, playing a song that we all know by heart. If they’re not crying after the salute, they’re typically crying after Taps plays. To this day it gets me when I hear it. On active duty bases, it’s typically played basewide at the end of the evening. When I first got in I didn’t quite understand why so many people stopped in listened, shutting down any and all conversation around them. I understand now.

And the last, even if the family has managed to keep their composure, is when the senior member of the team carries the flag to the next of kin. You kneel in front of them, holding that cloth as if it’s the most precious thing in the world. You hand it to them, and you say, reverently, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army (or their branch of service) and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation to your loved one’s faithful service and dedication.”

I’ve always managed to keep myself under control until I’ve left the family and I’m out of sight. I’m hoping that I’m not asked to present the flag tomorrow because I don’t know if I can keep a straight face on this one.


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  1. The hardest military funeral I’ve ever attended was my elder brother’s.
    He’d led a hard life after his service. He never seemed to find himself a long-term relationship, a job that engaged him, or a hobby to fulfill his dreams.
    Instead, like many Viet Nam returnees, he drank. A lot. Eventually, he lost his home, his job, and just about every one of his friends.
    He died alone.
    Still, the military took care of him. They found him a place for his ashes, they provided him with a dignified funeral, and they treated all the family well.
    In the spring, I’m going to travel to his resting place, with a relative or two. Preferably after the winter weather breaks.

    • Kevin on January 4, 2024 at 8:24 AM

    My father was a WWII vet.  When he died 40 years ago, the timing of his death meant that if we were to have an Army color guard providing military honors at his funeral, the funeral would have to be delayed a couple of days (they were booked, or something), which would put it on my sister’s birthday.  My mother didn’t want to do that to my sister.  
    So we decided to do it ourselves – as much as we could.  I was on active duty (a Captain). The night before the funeral, my two brothers, two brothers-in-law, and two nephews went out into the front yard, into a windy Houston early spring evening, and practiced the flag-folding, using the funeral flag from my grandfather’s funeral, a WWI vet. 
    Come the funeral itself, I am in my Greens. My mother had talked to my father’s WWII battalion commander, who was now a retired Major General. The two of us were the only uniformed members of the flag detail, the two-star as the OIC, and me – the Captain – as the NCOIC.
    No rifle salute, no Taps.  But the flag-folding and presentation did have the same effect as you described.  For our family, my father’s “do it yourself” attitude made it even more significant, and an after-the-funeral smile-inducing memory.

    • Butch DuCote on January 4, 2024 at 2:58 PM

    Dave, I agonized whether to make this correction or not, but, being a Master Gunnery Sergeant of Marines I could not let this pass. Only a head of state gets a 21 gun salute which consist of firing cannon 21 times. The military funeral ceremony rifle salute is “fire three volleys”. It is often misunderstood due to the fact the rifle detail usually consist of seven and three volleys are fired. See this for further explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-volley_salute
    Having to present our nation’s flag many times I feel for you. Many times I wondered to myself if I could contain my composure. Please accept my condolences. 

    • Old Bill in TN on January 4, 2024 at 3:42 PM

    I used to do military honors for funerals in our small corner of E. Tennessee. The hardest one I ever had was when I presented the flag to a man’s Widow. She was probably in her late 80s, maybe 100lbs soaking wet, and she broke down as I knelt to present the flag.
    Dear God, people really don’t know the price paid for their liberty.
    God’s blessings,

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