Yes, you can still have a military funeral if you choose to be cremated. The Department of Defense provides military funeral honors for eligible veterans regardless of whether they are buried or cremated.
What are military funeral honors?
Military funeral honors are a way to recognize a veteran’s service to their country. They involve a ceremony that includes the folding and presenting of the United States flag to the veteran’s family and the playing of Taps. Military funeral honors are provided for eligible veterans free of charge.
Eligibility for military funeral honors
To be eligible for military funeral honors, the deceased must have served on active duty and received an honorable or general discharge. The following veterans are eligible:
- Members who served on active duty and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable
- Former members and discharged members of the Selected Reserve
- Former military members who served in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable
- Former members of the Selected Reserve who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service and departed under conditions other than dishonorable
Elements of military funeral honors
A military funeral honors ceremony consists of several elements:
- Flag folding – The flag is meticulously folded into a triangular shape by uniformed service members.
- Flag presentation – The folded flag is presented to the veteran’s next of kin as a keepsake.
- Rifle volley – A rifle party fires three rifle volleys (7 soldiers firing 3 shots each) to honor the veteran’s service.
- Taps – A bugler plays Taps, the traditional bugle call played at military funerals and flag ceremonies.
Military funeral honors for cremated remains
The military provides the same funeral honors for cremated veterans as they do for casketed remains. The only difference is that the cremated remains are placed on a display table rather than being interred at a gravesite. The ceremony is modified slightly to accommodate this.
If the cremated remains are buried, the military honors can take place at the burial site. If the cremated remains will not be buried, the military honors can occur at a location of the family’s choice, such as a funeral home, cemetery chapel, or place of worship.
Elements of military honors for cremated remains
The ceremony for cremated remains involves these modified elements:
- The cremated remains are placed in an urn on a display table, rather than being transported in a casket.
- Any remarks and prayers are made with the urn present rather than a casket.
- The flag is folded and presented to the next of kin while the cremains are still on display.
- Taps is played while the flag is being presented and the cremains are still present.
- The rifle volley is conducted in the same manner.
If the cremated remains will be buried later in a cemetery, the flag presentation often takes place at the burial site after the urn has been placed in the ground. The rifle volley and Taps take place there as well.
How to arrange military funeral honors
To arrange military funeral honors for a cremated veteran:
- Notify the funeral director that the deceased was a veteran and request military funeral honors.
- Provide the veteran’s military discharge documentation (DD 214 form).
- Indicate whether the cremated remains will be buried or not.
- Choose the location for the military honors ceremony if the remains will not be buried.
- The funeral home will contact the Department of Defense to coordinate the military honors detail.
Military funeral honors must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance. It is recommended to notify the funeral director at least a week in advance if possible.
Cost of military funeral honors
There is no cost to the family for military funeral honors provided for eligible veterans. The Department of Defense provides the honors detail, including transporting the team to the location, free of charge. Families are only responsible for costs related to the funeral itself, such as the service fee charged by the funeral home. The government does not reimburse families for any costs.
Displaying military medals on an urn
Veterans who earned military awards and decorations may want them displayed on their urn during military funeral honors. Medals and ribbons can be beautifully arranged and pinned to a special display drape that sits in front of the urn.
Families have a few options for obtaining medals and arranging a medal display:
- Request replacement medals from the military – Families can contact the National Personnel Records Center to get replacements for lost medals.
- Purchase medals from a private vendor – Many online vendors sell authentic war medals and ribbons.
- Ask the funeral director to arrange a medal display – Many funeral homes offer this service and have medal mounting specialists on staff.
- Display the medals on the urn yourself – Drapes can be purchased online and medals pinned to them in the correct order of precedence.
Proper display of military medals shows respect for the veteran’s service and sacrifice. This can be a meaningful part of the military honors funeral service whether the veteran is in a casket or an urn.
Veterans who choose cremation are still entitled to receive military funeral honors in recognition of their service to the country. The ceremonies are slightly adapted to accommodate cremated remains but maintain all the important traditions and respect. Families of cremated veterans can coordinate with the funeral home and Department of Defense to arrange honors that give their loved one a proper final tribute.