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Planning & Attending a Military Funeral - Etiquette & Expectations - Colonial Funeral Home

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Planning & Attending a Military Funeral - Etiquette & Expectations

As a member of the military, a veteran makes many sacrifices in order to defend our nation and protect the freedoms we enjoy. Because of the bravery and dedication these men and women display, we honor their passing with a military funeral. A military funeral is often a more formal affair than a traditional funeral and rightly so. If you or a loved one will be planning or attending a military funeral, this post will provide you with all of the details you need to know.

military funeral

Planning a Military Funeral

In order to plan a military funeral, you must first prove the deceased’s eligibility by presenting a DD Form 214 to the funeral director. This is the form that is given to a military member upon their retirement, separation, or discharge from active duty in one of the various branches of the United States Armed Forces.

After this form is presented to the funeral director, they will verify its authenticity and begin the arrangement process. The funeral director will then contact the appropriate Military Service to request funeral honors and begin the arrangement process.

To request a copy of the DD Form 214, please visit here for more information.


The following outlines the various requirements to be eligible for military funeral honors:

  • Military members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve.

  • Former military members who served on active duty and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.

  • Former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable.

  • Former military members discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

What’s Included With a Military Funeral

Depending on the rank, status and occupation of the deceased, a military funeral may contain additional elements. In most cases however, the following honors are offered:

  • Flag folding and presentation

  • Playing of “Taps” by a bugler (if available) or a high-quality recording.

Additional elements that may be provided include the following. However, do to the high volume of burials and limited personnel, the following are often reserved for active duty deaths or high ranking officers.

  • Rifle detail

  • Color guard

  • Pallbearers

  • Caisson

  • Military fly-over

Military Funeral Etiquette

If you will be attending a military funeral, there will be different etiquette rules and expectations dependent upon if you are a civilian or military personnel. In either case, a military funeral is a serious service that demands the utmost respect and etiquette. It is a time to respect a hero for their sacrifices and give them the honorable farewell they deserve.

military funeral

1. When To Salute

If you have never attended a military funeral before, you may believe that saluting is a form of respect. While there is no rule stating that a civilian should not salute, if done incorrectly or at an inappropriate time, it can be considered a sign of disrespect. Instead of saluting, civilians are encouraged to remove their hat and place it over their heart. If you are not wearing a hat, place your right hand over your heart instead.

If you are a member of the Armed Forces, you should stand and salute at the appropriate times. The only exception to this being if you are a pallbearer. Appropriate times to salute include:

  • When the hearse passes in front of you

  • Any time that the casket is moved

  • During the playing of Taps

  • During the gun salute

  • While the casket is being lowered into the ground

2. What To Wear

A military funeral is a time to display your respect for the deceased. This means that clothing should be formal at all times. Wearing casual clothes like jeans, t-shirts, or sweaters is not only discouraged but considered disrespectful.

Civilians should dress in formal clothing similar to what would be expected at a church service. Men should wear a dark suit and tie or at the very least, slacks, a dress shirt and a tie. Women should wear a dark dress, a suit, or a skirt and blouse.

Military personnel should be dressed in their Class-A uniform commonly referred to as a “Dress Uniform”. Wearing your military mess dress, is not considered appropriate for a funeral service.

3. Where To Sit

As with any funeral service, the seating located nearest to the front is reserved for immediate family members. At a cemetery, there may only be enough seating for the deceased’s family. Next of kin should be front and center as they will receive the folded American flag during the service. If you are seated at the grave site, you should remain seated for the duration of the ceremony.

4. Bringing Children

Because a military funeral includes long periods of silence and standing still, it is not recommended to bring young children unless at the request of the deceased’s family. Older children should have the process explained to them ahead of time and encouraged to come if they will be able to show their respect throughout the ceremony.


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