“All Hands Bury the Dead”

by MSO

A public memorial service will be held for Neil Armstrong on September 13, 2012 at the Washington National Cathedral. Neil Armstrong presented the cathedral with a piece of the moon which the church incorporated into their Space Window in 1974.

Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 landed their lunar module on the Sea of Tranquility, so named because of the bluish tint of the surface rocks, on the moon’s surface in 1969. According to Armstrong’s family, he will rest within a different kind of sea in the next few days.

Many of the Apollo Missions’ crew are buried at Arlington Cemetery but that’s not where Neil Armstrong wanted his final resting place to be. He requested to be buried at sea. As a former aviator in the U.S. Navy, Armstrong can be granted this naval honor.

The United States Navy has developed a protocol for a burial at sea and arranging the details of a ceremony can take weeks. The ceremony begins with a call by the officer of the deck, “All hands bury the dead,” and the ship is then brought to a halt. The ship’s crew, including a station firing squad, casket bearers and a bugler, are assembled on the deck and the ship’s flags are lowered to half mast. The coffin is covered with the flag, and is carried feet first on deck by the casket bearers. The casket is placed on a stand, with the feet overboard. If the body has been cremated, the urn is brought on deck and placed on a stand.

After the religious ceremony, which is held in accordance with the faith of the deceased, the firing squad presents arms as the casket bearers tilt the platform with the casket, so that the casket slides off the platform into the ocean. The flag which was draped over the casket is all that remains. Cremated remains can be buried at sea in an urn or scattered in the wind.

Once the body has been committed to the sea, the firing party fires a three volley salute and flowers may also be dropped into the ocean. Taps is played, the flag is folded and the ship resumes its course as the last note of Taps is played.

Armstrong’s family has not yet revealed the details of the burial at sea but perhaps it will take place where Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 splashed down when they returned home from the moon on July 24, 1969. They landed in safety just before dawn in the Pacific Ocean about 920 miles southwest of Honolulu.

Though there will not be a tangible final resting place for the public to visit, a national memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC. The service will be carried live on NASA Television and streamed online at nasa.gov and nationalcathedral.org. A limited number of seats will be available to the public to attend the ceremony. A private family service was held on August 31, 2012 in Ohio where Armstrong lived.

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