Military funerals

The description below is how a funeral service is conducted at Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral service at other national cemeteries will vary depending on what military resources are available in the area.

The typical funeral a journalist might witness is the standard funeral. Just write “Sgt. John Doe was buried with military honors.” Do not write “full military honors” unless it meets the criteria below.


Types of Military Funerals

Standard Honors: Standard graveside honors can be provided enlisted service members by the appropriate branch of service at Arlington National Cemetery. These honors include:

  • A casket team
  • A firing party
  • A bugler

Additionally, all branches of the armed services may use the caisson, if available, for service members who have reached the top NCO grade of E-9.

The cemetery staff will make arrangements for military honors when requested by the next of kin or representative. A military chaplain may also be requested.

Full Honors: In addition to the standard military honors, those eligible for full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery may also receive:

  • An escort platoon (size varies according to the rank of the deceased)
  • A military band

Burial flags are provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at no cost. Most veterans are entitled to burial flags. Reservists entitled to retired pay are also eligible. Only one burial flag may be provided per veteran. They are provided as a matter of course at Arlington National Cemetery and at National, state or post cemeteries. For private funerals, flags may be obtained from any VA regional office and most U.S. Post Offices by completing VA Form 2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes, and submitting it with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers at any of those locations.

Additionally, those eligible for full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery may use the caisson, if available. Officers in the rank of colonel and above in the Army and the Marine Corps may be provided a caparisoned (riderless) horse, if available. General officers may receive a cannon salute (17 guns for a four-star general, 15 for a three-star, 13 for a two-star, 11 for a one-star), if available. Each service has variations to these funeral honors.

The president of the United States is entitled to a 21-gun salute, while other high state officials receive 19 guns.

Armed Forces Honors: The honors are the same as a full-honors funeral, except that escort platoons from each of the services participate. These funerals are reserved for the president of the United States (as commander-in-chief), secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or officers granted multiple-service command.

Military spouses and family members: When a spouse or other dependent of a current or former member of the Armed Forces is buried at Arlington, the military service in which the primary party served will provide a casket team and a chaplain. No other military honors will be rendered unless the spouse served in the military.

Sequence of Events for an Army Honors Funeral At Arlington National Cemetery

The caisson or hearse arrives at grave site, everyone presents arms.
Casket team secures the casket, NCOIC, OIC and chaplain salute.
Chaplain leads the way to grave site, followed by casket team.
Casket team sets down the casket and secures the flag.
The NCOIC ensures the flag is stretched out and level, and centered over the casket.
NCOIC backs away and the chaplain, military or civilian, will perform the service.
At conclusion of interment service and before benediction, a gun salute is fired for those eligible ( i.e. general officers).
Chaplain concludes his service and backs away, NCOIC steps up to the casket.
The NCOIC presents arms to initiate the rifle volley.
Rifle volley complete, bugler plays “taps.”
Casket-team leader starts to fold the flag.
Flag fold complete, and the flag is passed to the NCOIC, OIC.
Casket team leaves grave site.
NCOIC, OIC either presents the flag to the next of kin, or if there is a military chaplain on site he will present the flag to the chaplain, and then the chaplain will present to the next of kin.
Arlington Lady presents card of condolences to the next of kin.

Source: Arlington National Cemetery