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Did You Know? Military Funeral Honors

The National Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2000 provides for the rendering of Military Funeral Honors, a statutory entitlement. Military Funeral Honors are the ceremonial paying of respect and the final demonstrations of the country’s gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended our nation. The Military Funeral Honors ceremony consists of, at a minimum, the folding and presentation of the American flag and the sounding of “Taps” by a detail of two uniformed members of the Armed Forces of the United States. At least one of the detail’s members shall be from the parent service of the beneficiary.

Eligible beneficiaries are active duty members, retired service members, veterans (as defined by 38 USC 101(2) including Section 3.7, Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations), and deceased members and former members of the Selected Reserve (using the burial flag eligibility criteria in 38 USC 2301).

It is Department of the Army policy to provide Full Military Funeral Honors for all Retired Soldiers consisting of a 9–member team (6 pallbearers and/or firing party, a chaplain, and officer and/or NCO in charge, and a bugler (if available)). The team serves as pallbearers and the firing party, folds and presents the American flag to the next of kin, and plays “Taps.” A member of the decedent’s parent military service will present the flag. Military Funeral Honors for Retired Soldiers are the same as for active duty Soldiers (resources permitting). Medal of Honor recipients will receive full military honors regardless of status.

Subject to the policy above, local commanders determine the availability of their resources as they pertain to Military Funeral Honors support, the composition of the burial honor details, and any restrictions relating to military honors.

Firing of 3 volleys at Military Funeral Honors
In accordance with FM 3–21.5, the firing party may include 3 to 8 rifle bearers, reflecting the American military custom of firing “three volleys of musketry” over the graves of fallen comrades. This practice of firing 3 volleys originated in the old custom of halting the fighting to remove the dead from the battlefield. Once each army had cleared its dead for the battlefield, it would fire 3 volleys to indicate that the dead had been cared for and that they were ready to go back to the fight. The fact that the firing party consists of 7 riflemen, firing 3 volleys does not constitute a 21–gun salute.

21–gun salute
The 21–gun salute is fired in honor of the national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, and the President, former President, and President–elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon on the day of the funeral of a President, former President, or President–elect. Gun salutes are also rendered to other military and civilian leaders of this and other nations. The number of guns is based on their protocol rank. These salutes are always in odd number.

Denying Funeral Honors
Funeral Honors can be denied to:
  • Amember absent without authority in excess of 30 days or for an individual declared a deserter at the time of death by competent authority.
  • A person who has been convicted of a capital offense under federal or state law for which the person was sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole.
  • A person who has been convicted of a serious offense. A serious offense, as used herein, is a military or civilian offense, which if prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, could be punished by confinement of six months or more and/or a punitive discharge; and any other misconduct, which if prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, would require specific intent for conviction.
  • A person who has at any time been discharged or released from military service with any of the following: (1) dishonorable discharge; (2) bad conduct discharge; (3) dismissal from the service awarded by court–martial; (4) under other than honorable conditions discharge; (5) an officer resignation in lieu of court–martial, which results in a discharge characterization of under other than honorable conditions.
Information provided by Army Regulation 600-25, Salutes, Honors, and Visits of Courtesy.