Do you know proper military funeral etiquette?

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. James Spring
  • 193rd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
A military funeral is a solemn and memorable way to commemorate the lives of those who have served their country. The purpose of a military funeral is to be a formal and respectful event, which includes proper military etiquette on the part of the mourners.
During a military funeral, members of the Armed Forces are expected to wear their service dress uniform and be prepared to salute when: the hearse passes in front of them, anytime the flag-draped casket is moved, during the formal gun salute, during the playing of Taps and when the casket is lowered into the ground.

In the case of a cremation, as the urn is being moved, it should be followed by someone carrying a folded flag. Members should salute as the flag passes by. Former military members not in uniform may salute. However, civilians should not salute. As a sign of respect, civilians should instead remove any head gear and place it over their heart. In the absence of head gear, the customary gesture is to place the right hand over the heart.

All civilian mourners should be dressed in a respectful fashion. During the ceremony, all people present should remain standing unless seating arrangements are provided and the chaplain permits sitting during the reading of the committal service. Immediate family members should be allowed to sit at the front in order to receive the folded American flag after the flag-folding honor is carried out. Anyone seated at the grave site should stay seated throughout the entire service.

All veterans qualify for a military funeral, whether they were retired, on active duty or a member of the Reserve or National Guard. It doesn't matter what rank the deceased attained in the service or whether or not they died in combat. The only exception is if they were dishonorably discharged or charged with a capital crime. Military funerals can take place at any national or private cemetery.

Anyone making the preparations for a military funeral should have a copy of the deceased servicemember's DD Form 214 to give to the funeral director. This will accelerate the process for receiving military honors and ensures a flag for the casket.
A military funeral is the last honor and show of respect given to a veteran by his country, his fellow servicemembers and his family and friends. Due to the seriousness of the occasion, it is important to follow proper etiquette to avoid disrespecting the memory of the deceased.