What Are the Proper Military Honors for Cremation?

Published on:

Whether you’re planning to attend a military funeral or you’re planning to have your loved one laid to rest, it’s critical to understand the funeral services available to members of the armed forces. Military funerals are special, as the government extends special recognition to servicemembers for their dedication and sacrifice for the country. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

If you’ve watched a military funeral, you likely know that some distinguishing features won’t be found in non-military funerals.

Most military families are aware of traditions such as a flag ceremony before lowering the casket. What if, however, your loved one wants to be cremated instead of buried in a casket? Are there differences in the protocol if a casket isn’t present? If your loved one has chosen cremation, learn what the military makes available so you can make the right preparations to have your loved one laid to rest. 

Military Funeral Protocol for Cremation

Though the service might differ slightly, military funerals for cremation are just as solemn, dignified, and respectful as a casket funeral. These military funerals can take place at a national cemetery or private cemetery of the family’s choice. Receiving military honors is not contingent upon burial in a national cemetery. Regardless of where you hold your loved one’s inurnment, you can expect the following honors to be bestowed upon them.

Urn arrives at cemetery

If there has been a wake for the service member, the military funeral will begin after the urn is transported to the cemetery. Either the funeral home or the family of the deceased will bring the urn to the cemetery. Pallbearers will place the urn on a table or designated platform.

Arrival at the committal shelter

A committal shelter is an open-air, covered, private pavilion that is set away from the cemetery. This is available to any service member’s family for a cremation inurnment burial. All cremation burials are held in the committal shelter at national cemeteries or a state’s VA cemetery, not the niche or gravesite. This provides privacy, the ability for a full service to be provided for the deceased uninterrupted, and time for the family to bid their loved one farewell.

Once the urn, family, and friends have arrived at the committal shelter, the service with military honors will commence.

Start of the committal ceremony

One crucial difference that families should be aware of when holding a committal ceremony with military honors instead of a graveside service with military honors is that the committal ceremony is short. 

When planning a committal ceremony, it is assumed that a much larger funeral or memorial service was held prior. This is because committal shelters can be scheduled for multiple uses each day. While the committal ceremony is where the deceased receives military honors, a service held prior provides family, friends, and large groups of people to pay their respects. It also allows loved ones to acknowledge the deceased’s life and service and spend time honoring their contribution and sacrifice. These services can be held anywhere the family desires, such as a church, park, or backyard. 

When the committal ceremony begins, a chaplain will lead the way into the shelter, followed by the honor guard.

Placement of urn

The chaplain leads the way into the committal shelter, followed by at least two honor guard members. Should the family ask for the honor guard to provide pallbearer duties, the first servicemember will carry a folded flag while the second carries the urn. The urn is placed in the center of a cloth-draped table, and the folded flag is set behind it.

While the urn and flag are placed on the table, family and friends file into the seats provided, facing the table.

Draping of the flag

This is an important distinction that families should be aware of before the committal ceremony. As opposed to a graveside casket funeral, the flag is not draped over the urn. Until the urn is placed at the designated place in the committal shelter, the flag is carried in already folded. Once the urn is set, the flag will then be placed leaning on the urn. 

Flowers

As part of the committal service, the family can choose to have military funeral flowers set up around the committal shelter. This needs to be arranged prior to the ceremony, so the flowers are already placed by the time everyone arrives at the cemetery. 

The flowers that grace the committal shelter can be flowers you order specifically for the service, or you can decide to have the cemetery set up flowers sent from family and friends for a service, wake, or memorial held prior to the committal. All instructions regarding floral decorations must be relayed to the funeral coordinator assigned to you so they can get everything in place.

Short service

A committal ceremony is a shorter service that isn’t supposed to replace a full memorial or another funeral service at the family’s place of choice. Depending on the cemetery, there can be up to 20 committal services scheduled a day. These services are opportunities to provide close family and friends with a final opportunity to say farewell before the urn is placed in its in-ground vault or a columbarium niche.

During the service, you can choose to have:

If you need a precise idea of how much time you’ll have for the service and honors, the funeral coordinator will provide you with complete details. Asking for the amount of time provided will help you plan out the service and leave time for honors bestowed.

“Taps”

Once chosen poems have been read, the clergy has spoken, and any other personalized elements you choose are finished, military honors will continue with the playing of Taps.

Depending on availability, a bugler will be provided, or an electronic recording played. Thanks to a growing base of volunteers, many funerals can have “Taps” played by a bugler. If you’re made aware that an electronic recording will be played, you may ask for a volunteer from within friends, family, or known servicemembers to play live during the funeral.

While “Taps” is played, the honor guard salutes the deceased as a sign of respect and honor.

Flag ceremony

During this portion of the service, a member of the honor guard will retrieve the flag. Both the honor guard members will then unfold it and unfurl it, briefly holding it open over the urn. The flag will then be re-folded. The folded flag is handed off to the member of the guard who is in the same branch of the military as the deceased. The flag is then marched to the next of kin and handed to them.

When the flag is handed to the next of kin, the service member says, “As a representative of the United States [military branch], it is my high privilege to present you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country and our flag by your loved one.”

If there is no next of kin, the flag is given to a designated friend of the deceased during the military funeral flag presentation.

Rifle volley

If the family chooses, a seven- or eight-member firing team will be present to fire three rifle volleys. This tradition dates back to the Civil War, where each side of the battlefield would fire three rifle volleys to alert the opposing side that they needed time to remove their dead from the battlefield. Once the dead were removed, they would again fire three volleys to signify that the battle could continue.

ยป MORE: After a loss, you're never alone. Get the help you need with this planning checklist.

 

How Do Veterans’ Families Request Honors for Cremation?

When it comes to applying for military honors for your loved one’s funeral, the process is thankfully straightforward. The application process itself is even meant to honor the deceased member of the military and make things easier on their grieving family members.

For inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery, a National Park Service Cemetery, a state Veteran’s Cemetery, or a National Cemetery:

  • The family provides DD Form 214 to the funeral director to request military honors.
  • The funeral director coordinates with necessary parties to provide military honors. 
  • The government completely covers expenses related to military honors. 

For inurnment at a private cemetery:

  • The family provides DD Form 214 to the funeral director to request military honors.
  • The funeral director coordinates with necessary parties to provide military honors.
  • The family must request reimbursement from the government for expenses related to military honors.
  • Reimbursement requests are completed by filling out VA Form 21-530. This form, along with the veteran’s discharge document, death certificate, and funeral bills, may be submitted to any regional VA office for reimbursement.

Honoring Those Who Served

Our servicemen and women are brave, dedicated, and selfless. In life, they served their country and protected those they loved. In death, it is only fitting that they are given military honors for cremation, granting them the respect, honor, and appreciation they deserve.


Sources:

  1. “Arranging Military Funerals.” Burial and Memorial, Veteran’s Affairs, 27 February 2020. va.org/arranging-military-funerals/
  2. “Cremain Burial with Military Honors.” U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, YouTube, 19 Nov. 2012. youtube.com/watch?v=9iCgTDUwa0M
  3. “Final Salute with Military Funeral Honors.” Burial and Memorial, Veteran’s Affairs, 7 September 2020. va.org/final-salute-with-military-funeral-honors/
  4. “What to Expect During Military Honors.” Veterans and Military Funeral Honors, Military One Source, 15 September 2020. militaryonesource.mil/military-life-cycle/veterans-military-funeral-honors/what-to-expect-during-military-funeral-honors

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.