Our burial detail is sponsored by the VFW, and is under the supervision of Roger Keyes. Currently there are about 25 members, and it would be ideal to have at least five more in order to keep a rotation going and avoiding burn out, literally, in this summer’s heat. It takes a team of 11 to do a ceremony properly: 7 shooters, a bugler, two to fold the flag that was on the coffin, and one to give the commands so the ceremony goes off with precision. If the deceased is a Marine, for example, at least one member of the team needs to be a Marine as well, and this is true for all the branches of service.
In a pinch they can get by with three shooters, and typically three rounds are fired. The full 21 gun salute is reserved for officials like the President, military officers and heads of state. The history of the “21 guns” goes back to the days of the Revolutionary War, and the number 21 was picked because it is the total of the numbers which make up the year 1776. The flag is folded with great care a total of 13 times, signifying the 13 colonies. Each fold has a special meaning, and includes such things as belief in eternal life, honor and remembrance toward the sacrifice of veterans, a tribute to woman and mothers, and others.
Tink also told me that the history behind the three shots fired goes back to the battlefield, where a succession of three fired shots after a cease fire indicated that the fighting was to resume again after a time of respect for the fallen.
Burial Detail members need not be veterans, and they need not be only men. They simply need to be people who have a passionate respect for our veterans and our flag. One thing that is bothersome to all three men I interviewed is the lack of respect for the flag at games, and to a lesser extent, at funerals. Tink said, “If people can, they need to stand, and put their hand over their heart. It shows respect both for the flag and the veteran.”
On the lighter and perhaps more practical side, a pet peeve of J.D’s is “long winded preachers.” He has been on duty at graveside services where the detail stood at parade rest for a total of 40 minutes in 100 degree weather. “They were lucky we didn’t faint,” he said. Lyle enjoys being a part of the detail because it “shows respect, and gives me a chance to say thanks.” So far this year they have officiated at over 60 funerals. Tink, who calls out the commands, says that their two jobs are to “follow protocol,” and “to do what the family wants.”
If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, your uniform and training will be provided for you, and you can learn more by calling Roger Keyes at 256-374-2072.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner