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Cremation Services - Traditions at Military Funerals

By Mike Selvon

Even if you've been to dozens of funerals before, military funerals of young servicemen killed in action are some of the most difficult. Not only are you mourning the loss of life, but you're also reflecting upon the notion that they sacrificed their lives for your freedom, and at such a young age. They gave up their family, their friends, their comfortable existence for a cause greater than themselves. That can bring a tear to anyone's eye.

When attending military funerals, there is no doubt this is something special, as at least two members of the uniformed armed forces, Reserve, or National Guard will be present during the wake, memorial and funeral services. Their silent presence is a reminder of the camaraderie in the army - and that this soldier was willing to sacrifice not just for us, but for his or her platoon. If killed in action or remembered particularly well, an officer sometimes attends the funeral and gives a speech to the grieving about the soldier's service, dedication and sacrifice.

At the gravesite, a gun salute is given to high ranking officers and officials or a 3-volley salute is fired. This tradition stems from the act of stopping fighting to remove the dead from the battlefield. To resume fighting, the armies would fire three volleys to indicate that the dead have been taken care of and the fighting may resume.

With the Navy, a cannon may be fired. This custom symbolizes how during combat, when a cannon fires, it partially disarms the ship, and so the cannon is fired at certain military funerals to represent trust and respect.

Sometimes music is present, like bagpipes, upon request. Other times, "Taps" is played via bugle or recording during the final salute. In 1862, bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton relayed playing his rendition of this emotional tune, "The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade.

The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring Brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. The call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac." This part of the military funeral ceremony always strikes a chord with attendees.

The US Department of Veteran Affairs provides burial allowances or even free burial at one of 125 Veteran Cemeteries for military funerals. A family is eligible to receive a Government headstone or marker, flag, a Presidential memorial certificate and possibly a burial allowance for free.

The burial allowance is paid if you paid for the funeral of a veteran, who was not dishonorably discharged and one of the following occurred: the veteran died in action, the veteran was receiving VA pension or compensation at the time, or the veteran died in a VA hospital.

In the case of a service-related death, the VA pays up to $2,000 in expenses. In a non-service death, the VA will pay $300 for funeral arrangements and $300 for burial arrangements.

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