My Dad’s Military Honors
Last month my father passed away. As a veteran of the Korean War, he was to be buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota. We were in this exact same spot just 10 years ago burying my mother, but my dad receives military honors. While I had a general idea of what was involved from the movies or television, it doesn’t compare to how moving the actual service is and the magnitude of respect that is given to their fellow servicemember.
The funeral home coordinated the burial with the National Cemetery Scheduling Office to set a time and date, and, of course, we already had the plot at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Unlike my mom’s funeral, my dad’s funeral wasn’t performed right away since we were also requesting the Honor Guard for military honors. The Fort Snelling Honor Guard is all volunteers, and you can imagine they’re busy giving veterans this benefit they’ve earned. My sister and I decided that we’d take the urn to the cemetery instead of asking the funeral home to transport it. The funeral home gave us the Certificate of Cremation and Death Certificate and our Cemetery Representative emailed me some paperwork to bring, including a form to write out what we wanted on his grave marker. Lastly, we needed to pick up a flag from the Post Office, and I was glad I had a copy of the DD 214, my dad’s discharge papers, on hand. That form is needed for everything!
For the day of the funeral were given a Gate number and Assembly area at the cemetery and instructed to arrive at least 15 minutes before the service. My brother completely ignored the gate number and map I sent him, and we saw his purple Corvette zipping around the cemetery trying to find us! We met up with our Cemetery Representative, handed him the paperwork and he took my sisters and me through what will happen next. When we were all assembled and ready to go, the Cemetery Representative led us to the shelter where the service would take place. I rode with my sister, our dad’s urn and the flag in the first car and everyone else followed in procession.
The Color Guard and Rifle Squad all saluted our car since that’s where my dad was. They took the urn from the car with the flag– still in its box from the post office–and brought it to the shelter where we all were assembling. While the shelters there are all different, at this one there was just one single bench there to sit on. My sister sat on the far left which was the designated spot for the person who was to be presented the flag. I was next to my sister, and my younger sister and aunt also sat on the bench.
The Honor Guard presentation included a Rifle Volley, 3 volleys of 7 making the 21-gun salute, the playing of Taps and folding the flag. They removed the flag from the box, tapped my dad’s urn with it. Two members of the Honor Guard folded the flag in a very specific way to enclose the red and white stripes in the field of blue with white stars symbolizing nightfall and a time for rest and eternal peace. Once folded, one of the Honor Guards ran his hands around all three sides to ensure all of the stripes were encased in the dark blue. The flag was presented to my sister along with a bag with three shell casings from the rifle volley representing duty, honor and sacrifice. She was also presented a Presidential Memorial Certificate signed by President Biden which recognizes the service and sacrifice of those in the Armed Forces. In addition, the remaining shells from the Rifle Volley were collected and handed to me in a small satchel with Fort Snelling National Cemetery embroidered on it. Finally, my dad was given the Final Salute. All active and former service personnel saluted, and civilians placed their hand on their heart.
Beforehand, I hoped to take pictures of what was happening, but I didn’t take any. I’ll definitely remember these moments. The service itself is rather quick, right around 8 minutes with a total of 15 minutes allowing us to say our goodbyes before we needed to leave to allow them to prepare for the next family. We just took one last picture of us kids with our dad.
On my way to the airport, we stopped by the cemetery to say hello to our mom and check in on dad. We were advised not to go to our mom’s grave the day of the funeral since they’d be digging a hole for my dad. They’ll put his inscription on the opposite side of my mom’s tombstone and have a temporary marker in its place for now. The airport is so close to the cemetery, so I’ll be able to swing by to visit mom and dad next time I’m in town.