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Veterans FAQs

Veterans FAQs

Honoring Those Who Served

The rendering of Military Funeral Honors is a way to show the Nation's deep gratitude to those who, in times of war and peace, have faithfully defended our country. This ceremonial paying of respect is the final demonstration a grateful Nation can provide to the veteran's families. The tradition of providing Military Funeral Honors, in some form, began in ancient Greece and Rome. The funeral honors protocol of today traces its roots to these ancient ceremonies as well as to historical American experiences.

Arlington National Cemetery Facts

  • Arlington Mansion and 200 acres of ground immediately surrounding it were designated officially as a military cemetery June 15, 1864, by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
  • More than 300,000 people are buried at Arlington Cemetery.
  • Veterans from all the nation's wars are buried in the cemetery, from the American Revolution through the Iraq and Afghanistan. Pre-Civil War dead were reinterred after 1900.
  • The federal government dedicated a model community for freed slaves, Freedman's Village, near the current Memorial Amphitheater, Dec. 4, 1863. More than 1,100 freed slaves were given land by the government, where they farmed and lived during and after the Civil War. They were turned out in 1890 when the estate was repurchased by the government and dedicated as a military installation. 
  • In Section 27, are buried more than 3,800 former slaves, called "Contrabands" during the Civil War. Their headstones are designated with the word "Civilian" or "Citizen". Arlington National Cemetery and Soldiers Home National Cemetery are administered by the Department of the Army. All other National Cemeteries are administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the National Park Service.
  • Arlington House (Custis-Lee Mansion) and the grounds in its immediate vicinity are administered by the National Park Service.
  • The flags in Arlington National Cemetery are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day. Funerals are normally conducted five days a week, excluding weekends. 
    Funerals, including interments and inurnments, average 28 a day.
  • With more than 300,000 people buried, Arlington National Cemetery has the second-largest number of people buried of any national cemetery in the United States. Arlington National Cemetery conducts approximately 6,400 burials each year. The largest of the 130 national cemeteries is the Calverton National Cemetery, on Long Island, near Riverhead, N.Y. That cemetery conducts more than 7,000 burials each year.
  • The Tomb of the Unknowns is one of the more-visited sites at Arlington National Cemetery The Tomb is made from Yule marble quarried in Colorado. It consists of seven pieces, with a total weight of 79 tons. The Tomb was completed and opened to the public April 9, 1932, at a cost of $48,000.
  • Three unknown servicemen are buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns: 
    1. A joint-service casket team holds a U.S. flag outstretched above the casket bearing the remains of the Vietnam Unknown, while President Ronald Reagan places a wreath at the casket's head during entombment ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
    2. Unknown Soldier of World War I, interred Nov. 11, 1921. President Harding presided. Unknown Soldier of World War II, interred May 30, 1958. President Eisenhower presided. Unknown Soldier of the Korean Conflict, interred May 30, 1958. President Eisenhower presided, Vice President Nixon acted as next of kin. An Unknown Soldier of the Vietnam Conflict, interred May 28, 1984. President Reagan presided.
    3. The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were disinterred May 14, 1998, and were identified as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, whose family has reinterred him near their home in St. Louis, Mo. It has been determined that the crypt at the Tomb of the Unknowns that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain empty.) The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded by the U.S. Army 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) began guarding the Tomb April 6, 1948.
  • On July 24, 1998, U.S. Capitol Police Officers John Michael Gibson, 42, and Jacob Joseph Chestnut, 58, were killed in the line of duty. They are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Special Agent Gibson is buried in Section 28. Officer Chestnut, a retired Air Force master sergeant, is buried in Section 4.
  • In addition to in-ground burial, Arlington National Cemetery also has one of the larger columbariums for cremated remains in the country. Seven courts are currently in use, with over 38,500 niches. 
    When construction is complete, there will be nine courts with a total of over 60,000 niches; capacity for more than 100,000 remains. Any honorably discharged veteran is eligible for inurnment in the columbarium.

    What is new about Military Funeral Honors?

    Military Funeral Honors have always been provided whenever possible. However, the law now mandates the rendering of Military Funeral Honors for an eligible veteran if requested by the family. As provided by law, an honor guard detail for the burial of an eligible veteran shall consist of not less than two members of the Armed Forces. One member of the detail shall be a representative of the parent Service of the deceased veteran. The honor detail will, at a minimum, per-form a ceremony that includes the folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin and the playing of Taps. Taps will be played by a bugler, if available, or by electronic recording.

    Today, there are so few buglers available that the Military Services often cannot provide one. The Military Funeral Honors detail will provide music; however, should there be a need, we have provided an official recording of Taps in this kit. This rendition of Taps was recorded at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 1999. In addition, funeral directors can assist the Services in locating area musicians. 

    Origin of the 21-Gun Salute

    The tradition of saluting can be traced to the Middle Ages practice of placing oneself in an unarmed position and, therefore, in the power of those being honored. The cannon salute might have originated in the 17th century with the maritime practice of demanding that a defeated enemy expend its ammunition and render itself helpless until reloaded -- a time-consuming operation in that era. 

    In the Anglo-Saxon Empire, seven guns was a recognized naval salute, seven being the standard number of weapons on a vessel. Because more gunpowder could be stored on dry land, forts could fire three rounds for every one fired from sea, hence the number 21. With the improvement of naval gunpowder, honors rendered at sea were increased to 21 as well. 

    Beginning in our colonial period the United States fired one shot for each state in the Union. This was continued until 1841 when it was reduced to 21 from 26. Although it had been in use for more than 30 years, the 21-gun salute was not formally adopted until Aug. 18, 1875. This was at the suggestion of the British, who proposed a "Gun for Gun Return" to their own 21-gun salute. 

    How much does a Military Funeral Honors detail cost?

    Military Funeral Honors are provided by the Department of Defense at no cost to the family. 

    What can the family of an eligible veteran expect?

    The core elements of the funeral honors ceremony, which will be conducted on request, are:
  • Flag folding
  • Flag presentation
  • Taps
  • The veteran's parent Service representative will present the flag.

How do Funeral Directors request a Military Funeral Honors Detail?

The Military Funeral Honors Directory is included in the Military Funeral Honors Kit. This Directory is for the exclusive use of the funeral director. It contains points of contact by Service and state or region. Using the Directory, funeral directors can locate the appropriate point of contact for their area. Please note that requests are based on the final interment site location, not the funeral service location, if they are different. If there is no final disposition site, then funeral honors may be rendered at the memorial service location.

A Department of Defense, toll-free telephone number, 1-877-MIL-HONR (1-877-645-4667), is also available for routing requests in the United States to the appropriate Service and geographic area coordinator. This computerized system is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The toll-free number is designed for use only by funeral directors. There may be times when the Service point of contact will not be available. If that is the case, an answering machine will record your request and you will be contacted as soon as possible by a Service representative. Funeral Directors in the U.S. Territories, who do not have access to the toll-free number, may work directly with the Military Service points of contact in their Territory. 

How much notice should be provided for the honors request?

The Services request at least 48 hours in order to organize the funeral honors detail.

What if the family wants to learn more about Military Funeral Honors?

An Internet web site is available. It is located at: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil and may be accessed by the general public. This web site is a source of detailed information with direct links to related military and veteran sites.

How do I obtain updated Directory information?

Updates to the Military Funeral Honors Directory will be maintained on the web site and may be retrieved by use of the funeral director's access code found in the Introduction section of the Directory. 

Who is eligible?

  • Military members on active duty
  • Military retirees
  • Members and former members of the
  • Selected Reserve
  • Eligible U.S. veterans of any war
  • Other U.S. veterans who served at least one term of enlistment and separated under conditions other than dishonorable.

Who is not eligible?

Some veterans are not eligible for funeral honors. This includes, for example, those discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions or individuals sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole for a federal or state capital offense. If you have eligibility questions, talk to your Service point of contact.

Further clarification on eligibility is available in Title 10 and Title 38, United States Code, which are available on this web site: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil

In this section

Veterans Overview

Veterans Headstones

Veterans Burial Flags

Veterans FAQs

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