The American Legion Memorial Service

by M-Gillies
American flag being folded at a burial of an urn at a cemetery

Folding the American flag over a cremation urn at an American Legion memorial service.

The American Legion has, since its inception in 1919, performed thousands of burial ceremonies annually for families. As such, it has become a sacred obligation of all Americans to honor the deceased veterans by performing these timely honored duties in the best tradition of the decedent’s service.

In the event of a veteran’s death, an authorized provider of military funeral honors will speak with the deceased’s family to arrange one of the nation’s most hallowed events. The Legion’s dignified participation will reflect the professionalism of the organization and further leave a lasting impression on everyone in attendance.

When the ceremony is conducted by the American Legion without the presence of a military detail, established Legion protocol and tradition may be followed in rendering honors to a veteran who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. These timely protocols are as follows:

The order of the ceremony will begin with the sounding of Taps, the folding of the flag, and then the presentation of the flag to the family. If there is a firing party, the volleys are fired before the sounding of Taps.

The detail leader is responsible for ensuring each step in the ceremony is executed properly, from the arrival of the funeral cortege to its departure.

The bugler and color guard should be placed at the gravesite so they are in view of the family, approximately 30-40 yards from the grave, while the firing party (also remaining in view of the family) should be positioned 45-75 yards from the grave, positioned to fire over the grave.

As such, the firing party will consist of three to eight rifle bearers, reflecting the American custom of firing three volleys of musketry over the graves of their fallen comrades.

In accordance to the American Legion procedures, the Military Honors detail should be positioned near where the hearse will stop. After the funeral procession has arrived, the funeral director will open the rear of the hearse allowing the pallbearers to move into position.

Upon the arrival of the family, the funeral director will signal the pallbearers to withdraw the casket from the hearse and carry it to the grave, where the bugler, firing party and color guard are already positioned by the gravesite.

During the ceremony, all detail participants, with the exception of the pallbearers will remain at Attention and Present Arms as the casket is carried to the grave. All detail participants will Order Arms after the casket has been placed on the lowering device. During this time, the pallbearers will be instructed to hold the flag over the casket, or move off as a group and stand in formation for the service.

It is during this time when the service will begin. All detail participants may go to Parade Rest during the committal or religious service until it is completed. At which time, the service representative and assistant will assume the clergy representative’s position at the head of the grave and all detail participants will come to the position of Attention.

When the funeral director asks the mourners to stand for the rendering of honors, the detail leader and all elements will execute Present Arms. During this time, volleys will be fired and Taps will be sounded. When completed, all will Order Arms and the funeral director will request the mourners be seated.

During this time the flag will be folded by either two military detail, the pallbearers or a combination of the two. However, when the flag is folded, it MUST end up in the hands of the detail assistant who will pass it to the detail leader. When the detail leader is presented with the flag, they will in turn present it to the next of kin.

Following the flag presentation, the detail leader will offer condolences to the remainder of the immediate family and other mourners seated in the front row. When the detail leader has offered his or her condolences, it is appropriate and encouraged for a representative of the Authorized Provider to offer their condolences.

When all condolences have been offered, the detail leader and assistant will return to the cortege arrival point and await the departure of the cortege. It is during this time that the bugler, firing party and color guard are released, and may choose to remain in place until the family departs or can return quietly to their own vehicles.

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