Attending a Veteran's Funeral
A Veteran's Memorial Service often differs significantly from the average civilian's service. All veterans eligible for Veterans Administration death benefits are entitled to dignified military funeral honors under the Department of Defense's "Honoring Those Who Served" program. If the veteran's surviving family wishes to honor their veteran with such a service, they can personally submit paperwork to the Department of Defense or speak to their funeral director, who will be able to submit the proper paperwork on their behalf.
The "Honoring Those Who Served" Program
The program provides free burial in a National Cemetery and headstones or markers for the deceased and their eligible dependents. Families who choose not to bury their deceased in a National Cemetery can receive compensation for burial services at another site, though this is often contingent upon the veteran's pension status. The Honoring Those Who Served program also includes a free honors ceremony attended by at least two uniformed military personnel, one of whom must come from the veteran's parent military branch. These personnel will present, fold, and drape an American flag over the deceased's casket with a level of honor and respect that mirrors their own honor and respect for the veteran's service to the country. The playing of "Taps" is also traditionally a significant and emotional moment in any veteran funeral. Unfortunately, as fewer and fewer qualified people learn the art of bugling, a live bugler may not be able to attend the service. In the event that a bugler is unavailable, an electronic recording of Taps can be played instead.
Attending a Veteran's Funeral Service
Those attending a veteran's funeral can expect (at a minimum) to observe the services detailed above, including whatever additional services the veteran's family feels are important to include, whether that is a gun salute or personal eulogy. As with all funerals, attendees should be well-dressed and sympathetic in a way that is sincere and natural. However, certain additional rules of etiquette apply. Military members are expected to appear in uniform and to salute whenever appropriate -- any point at which the casket is being moved, for instance, or while Taps is being played. Civilians are expected to cover their hearts with their hands or hats at any point that a military member would salute. Attendees should expect to remain standing throughout the entirety of the service, except if seating is available when the religious leader in attendance is reciting the committal service. The same etiquette applies at any Veterans Memorial Service meant to remember those lost in specific war efforts.
The care and ceremony which goes into any veteran's funeral service serves as a final thank you to the country's most staunch and selfless defenders. If you will be attending such a service, know that they are often more formal and rich with ritual than the average funeral service. Be respectful in turn and appreciate not only the service for its elegance and symbolism, but especially the sacrifices of the deceased.