For most, the start of their duty day brings about a new beginning, a new chapter in life; however, for those in my line of duty, it closes a chapter by putting the kindred souls of our nation’s heroes to rest. I oversee a funeral honors team of 28 members who, when called upon, stand ready to present honors at the funerals of fallen veterans in the southern Calif. region.
On an average day, I wake-up to the buzzing of my alarm clock around 5:30 a.m. While preparing for work, the days tasks that I will have to face, cycle through my subconscious. As I make my commute to the Navy Operational Support Center-Moreno Valley, Calif., calls start coming in pertaining to funeral task assignments and family members requesting assistance.
I muster (check in) at the office no later than 7:30 a.m. After which, I fulfill my daily physical training requirement, shower and then hurry back to my desk to check emails to review and confirm times, dates and places for the day’s funeral assignments.
Upon confirmation of the funeral arrangements, I arrange a team using a selection process mandated by Navy regulation. In most cases, assigned members will have the rate and rank of the fallen veteran. Next, I conduct an in-depth inspection of uniforms (from cover to shoe) and grooming, to ensure we represent our Navy veterans with class, dignity, and professionalism. As a precautionary measure, I pack backup supplies such as white gloves, ascots and aiguillettes because they are easily forgotten or unintentionally spoiled.
With appointments set, families notified and funeral homes readied, members receive their briefs and then dispatch to their location of responsibility. Once at the funeral site, they prepare for duties involving folding the flag, and the playing of taps confirming the gravesite. Prior to the actual ceremony, members take time to meet and greet family members of the veteran.
It is a very somber moment as the ceremony commences while those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, are eternally laid to rest.
At the conclusion of the funeral, we regroup and debrief the results of the service and, if needed, discuss ways to improve our next presentation, to ensure veterans families are fully satisfied with our performance. Once finished, we immediately transition to stand-by status and prepare for the next funeral, which in some cases can be as quick as 30 minutes after the last one.
Some days are easier than others, but we can never become immune to the tears of families in mourning. We cannot be oblivious to the pain of the families, because we know of their sacrifice; they just lost a loved one who fought to keep this country free.
As for me, there is no more gratifying duty than serving on the funeral honor team.
The Navy Funeral Honor Guard in Riverside Navy Operational Support-Moreno Valley conducts an estimated 1,450 Navy funerals in a fiscal year, which ranks number two in the Nation.