Serving in the Navy is one of life’s greatest honors for many veterans. When a Navy veteran passes away, loved ones may want to acknowledge service to their country with Navy funeral honors. A eulogy for a veteran can touch on your loved one’s specific experiences and sacrifices in the Navy — official honors recognize that being a member of the armed forces involves being part of something greater.
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If you’d like to arrange Navy funeral honors for a loved one, you may have some questions about what the ceremony involves and how you can request one. This guide will cover all the essentials you need to know.
Navy Funeral Honors Explained
Navy funeral honors involve the same ceremony as any other standard military funeral honors. They include the following traditions.
Presentation of burial flag
As with all U.S. military funerals, Navy funeral honors involve two or more uniformed members of the military (at least one of whom is a member of the same branch of the military as the deceased) folding a burial flag and presenting it to the deceased’s loved ones.
Those with proper training must fold the flag. According to the American Legion, the individual folds of the flag symbolize the following:
- The first fold symbolizes mortal life.
- The second fold is a symbol of belief in eternal life after death.
- The third fold specifically honors the sacrifices the deceased veteran made as a member of the military.
- The fourth fold has religious significance. It serves as an acknowledgment that humans have inherent weaknesses and must turn to a higher power for guidance at times.
- The fifth fold honors the United States.
- The sixth fold symbolizes the hearts with which Americans pledge allegiance to the flag.
- The seventh fold honors the armed forces in general.
- The eighth fold recognizes all those who have passed.
- The ninth fold is a tribute to women, womanhood in general, and their contributions to the nation.
- The 10th fold is for fathers who have given their children to the armed forces to serve the country.
- The 11th fold is also religious in nature, symbolizing the lower area of the seal of King David and King Solomon. This is meant to acknowledge citizens who practice Judaism.
- The 12th fold recognizes Christians by glorifying the holy trinity.
- The final fold leaves the stars upright as a reminder of the national motto, “In God We Trust.”
The flag folding ceremony may have roots in religious values but that doesn’t mean a veteran needs to have been Christian or Jewish to receive Navy funeral honors. Today, many people simply regard the flag folding tradition as a general symbol of respect for a veteran who died.
When presenting the flag to the deceased’s next of kin, the presenter says, “On behalf of a grateful nation and a proud Navy, I present this flag to you in recognition of your (relationship)’s years of honorable and faithful service to his/her country,” or something very similar to that. They will then step back a pace and salute the next of kin. After, they can return to the head of the grave or offer condolences. If any honorary pallbearers attend the funeral, they can also offer condolences at this time.
The tradition of playing the bugle call taps at military funerals dates back to the Civil War. As the story goes, in 1862, while camping with the troops near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield requested that brigade bugler Private Oliver Wilcox Norton meet him in his tent to compose a tune that would replace the “lights out” call the troops had been using at the time.
Butterfield allegedly whistled a basic tune of his own, asking Norton to play something like it back. Norton eventually came up with a 24-note call that satisfied Butterfield. After substituting it for the regulation Army taps, he attracted the attention of buglers from other brigades in the area. Many of them found they also preferred this alternative and it began to spread throughout the brigades.
Buglers first played taps at a funeral for a Union cannoneer who died in battle. The commanding officer who decided buglers should play taps at the funeral actually did so for very practical reasons.
Normally, the funeral for a soldier killed in action would have included a three-rifle volley. However, the commanding officer feared the enemy would hear the volley and interpret it as the start of an attack. He opted to replace the three-rifle volley with taps. Over time, it’s become traditional to play the famous bugle call at funerals for veterans of any branch of the military.
Playing taps and the presentation of the flag are the two traditions that Navy funeral honors always include. However, they may also include other traditions.
Navy funeral honors require military personnel involved in the funeral (such as body bearers, firing details, the officer in charge, the petty officer in charge, and honorary pallbearers) to stand in designated positions while awaiting the arrival of the funeral coach. The next of kin should be able to clearly see them throughout the ceremony.
When the funeral procession arrives, the head body bearer, officer, and uniformed honorary pallbearers salute the funeral coach, holding their salute until it comes to a complete stop.
All uniformed military personnel, aside from the body bearers, face the coach and salute again when the body bearers remove the casket. If the casket isn’t yet in the grave by the time they move back to their designated positions, they will hold a salute until it is.
Once a clergyman or similar figure reaches the final benediction, he may step away from the head of the grave. The officer will call a firing detail to attention. All military personnel in attendance salute again. They hold the salute until the members of the firing detail complete three volleys of gunfire.
A note on cremations
It’s worth noting that a veteran is still eligible for Navy funeral honors even if burial doesn’t take place. The Navy procedure still requires a ceremony involving bringing an urn to a gravesite but make small modifications to the ceremony for a cremated veteran.
How Do You Apply for Navy Funeral Honors?
From writing an obituary to selecting funeral flowers, planning a loved one’s funeral can involve many steps and responsibilities. Luckily, if you want your loved one’s ceremony to include Navy funeral honors, the process for requesting them is relatively straightforward.
Complete the Funeral Honors request form
If you’d like to request Navy funeral honors for a loved one, you need to first complete the Funeral Honors request form. You can download it on the official U.S. Navy website.
Submit the form
The page on the Navy’s website that links to the Funeral Honors request form also lists where you should submit the completed form based on where the funeral will take place. You need to include a copy of a DD-214 or other proof of honorable service along with the form.
It’s important to plan ahead when requesting Navy funeral honors. It can take the Navy up to 48 hours to process requests once they receive the submitted form. However, if you need a response within 24 hours, you can also call the office to which you sent the form directly.
You don’t have to mail the form and documentation. You have the option to send them via email or fax. However, if you choose one of these methods, you may want to call the Navy office to confirm they received everything.
Buy the flag
Although a military flag funeral presentation is part of Navy funeral honors, the Navy specifies that those requesting these honors need to provide their own flags.
A quick Google search will help you find many suppliers offering burial flags. However, you can request that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs furnish one for you by completing VA Form 27-2008. According to the VA, your funeral director will usually help you with this process.
Meet the team
The official Navy funeral honors team will arrive at the funeral venue or burial site 45 minutes before the scheduled start time.
The Navy strongly recommends communicating with the office arranging a veteran’s Navy funeral honors to let them know about any changes of date, time, or location as soon as you’re aware of such changes.
Navy Funeral Honors: Give Thanks to a Nation’s Heroes
It takes tremendous courage and strength to serve your country in the Navy (or any branch of the military). If you’ve lost someone who made that sacrifice at some point, you can express your pride and gratitude by arranging for Navy funeral honors.
- “American Flag-Folding Procedures.” The American Legion, www.legion.org/flag/folding
- “Burial Flags Frequently Asked Questions.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/opal/nac/sdc/faqBurialFlags.asp
- “Navy Military Funerals.” United States Navy, www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/casualty/Documents/NAVPERS%2015555D.pdf
- “Origin of ‘Taps.’” Arlington National Cemetery, www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Funerals/About-Funerals/Military-Honors/Taps
- “Request Funeral Honors.” Commander, Navy Installations and Command, United States Navy, www.cnic.navy.mil/om/base_support/command_and_staff/funeral-honors/u-s--navy-regions.html