Any eligible veteran who requests a military burial is guaranteed by law to have certain honors at his or her funeral. The Department of Defense is required by law to provide these services at no cost to the veteran’s family.
The honors they receive at their funeral depends on the veteran’s service, but will always have certain baseline elements, which includes at least two honor guard members. Depending on their military achievements, however, the funeral can range from a simple, understated ceremony to something akin to the opening act of a Super Bowl.
For veterans to get military honors at their burial, the family must give the VA or the local military installation two days’ notice. This can be coordinated through a veteran’s funeral director.
Any veteran’s funeral will have, at the least, the two-person honor guard, who will play “Taps” as well as fold and present the American flag to the veteran’s family. The Department of Defense will go out of their way to provide a real bugler, but in some cases, exceptions have to be made for a recording.
Sometimes, a ceremonial bugle will be used, where the song comes from a speaker in the bell of the bugle, but the song isn’t actually being played live.
The honor guard will then fold the flag draping the casket and present it to the family. If the veteran is cremated, the folding ceremony varies slightly, but is still presented to the next of kin. Burial flags are provided free of charge, but must be coordinated through a funeral director or VA office, after completing the required form.
Every veteran interred at Arlington National Cemetery will have a 17-person casket team, a firing party, a bugler and the folding of and presentation of the flag.
For members of the Coast Guard and the Navy, families can request a burial at sea. Families are responsible for transporting the remains to the port of embarkation and must know that the burial will take place during a routine deployment. It’s unlikely that the family will be able to be present at a burial at sea.
Some veterans are eligible to receive military honors with escort, also known as “full” military honors. What eligible veterans receive with full military honors also varies by availability and service.
According to Arlington National Cemetery, military honors with escort are available to any veteran who reached the ranks of E-9, CW-4, CW-5, or O-4 and above. Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war and those killed in action – of any rank – are also afforded “full” military honors.
Those receiving military honors with escort are provided with the standard military honors; the flag ceremony, playing of “Taps,” and an honor guard. They can also receive a marching escort of various sizes (dependent on rank), a firing party for a three-volley salute, a military band and a military team of pallbearers.
If the veteran is being interred at Arlington, they are eligible to be driven to the gravesite by the cemetery’s caisson, a wagon driven by a team of six horses.
General officers who served in the Army or Marine Corps can get full military honors that include a riderless horse and a cannon salute with the number of cannons dependent on the general’s rank. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps officers of 0-7 and above are offered minute guns for their salute.
Families can also request a military flyover, if the assets are available to the location of the funeral and the weather permits.