Military Funeral Guide for Families & Funeral Homes

Table of Contents


Losing a loved one is a challenging and emotional time for any family. When a family member has served in the military, honoring their service and providing them with a proper military funeral becomes an important way to pay tribute to their dedication and sacrifice. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the origin and history of military funerals, how to properly conduct a military funeral service, military decorations for the body, how to wear medals properly for your loved one at a funeral, and additional military funeral honors such as headstones.

1.The Origin and History of Military Funerals

Military funerals are steeped in tradition, solemnity, and honor. They serve as a poignant way to pay tribute to fallen service members who have dedicated their lives to serving their country. The history of military funerals spans centuries, evolving from ancient rituals to the formalized ceremonies we witness today. In this article, we will delve into the origin and historical development of military funerals, exploring the customs, traditions, and significance behind these solemn tributes.

(1) Ancient Origins:

The roots of military funerals can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where warriors were given elaborate send-offs to the afterlife. Civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans believed in honoring their fallen soldiers and ensuring their safe passage to the next world. Elaborate burial ceremonies, including the provision of weapons, armor, and offerings, were common practices.

(2) Medieval Period:

During the Middle Ages, military funerals continued to evolve, influenced by religious beliefs and societal norms. Christianity played a significant role, emphasizing the importance of prayers, blessings, and the sanctity of the deceased’s soul. Knights and nobles received special funeral rites, including processions, requiem masses, and the display of heraldic symbols.

(3)Evolution in Modern Warfare:

The rise of modern warfare brought about significant changes in military funerals. As armies grew larger and battles more widespread, the need to honor fallen soldiers became an essential aspect of military culture. National identity and patriotism played vital roles, with countries developing specific customs to pay tribute to their fallen heroes.

(4)19th Century:

The 19th century witnessed significant advancements in military funeral practices. The Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War brought about a new era of mass casualties, resulting in the need for more standardized funeral procedures. Both the United States and European countries implemented formal protocols, including the use of military escorts, the playing of military music, and the folding and presentation of flags.

(5)20th Century:

The 20th century saw military funerals become more structured and symbolic. The World Wars and subsequent conflicts further emphasized the importance of honoring fallen soldiers. Ceremonies became more elaborate, incorporating bugle calls such as Taps, rifle salutes, and the participation of honor guards. The playing of Taps, in particular, became synonymous with military funerals, representing a hauntingly beautiful tribute to the fallen.

(6)Modern Military Funerals:

In modern times, military funerals continue to hold a place of deep reverence and respect. Each branch of the military has its own customs and protocols, emphasizing the unique contributions and sacrifices made by its service members. The processions, flag presentations, and precision drills performed by honor guards evoke a sense of solemnity and gratitude.

(7)Changing Customs and Inclusivity:

With societal changes and evolving attitudes, military funerals have also adapted to embrace inclusivity and diversity. Efforts have been made to ensure that funerals respect the beliefs and customs of service members from various religious and cultural backgrounds. Flexibility in funeral arrangements, the inclusion of religious representatives, and cultural practices have become important considerations.


The origin and history of military funerals highlight the deep-rooted respect and gratitude societies have for their fallen heroes. From ancient rituals to the formalized ceremonies witnessed today, military funerals have evolved to encompass customs and traditions that symbolize sacrifice, bravery, and dedication to the nation. By understanding the historical development of military funerals, we can appreciate the significance of these solemn tributes and the importance of honoring those who have served their country with unwavering commitment.


How to Properly Conduct a Military Funeral Service

Properly conducting a military funeral service requires coordination between the family, funeral home, and military personnel. Here are some key steps to follow:

(2)Contact the appropriate military branch: Notify the relevant military branch about the passing of the service member. They will assist in coordinating the funeral honors and provide guidance on the necessary protocols.

(3)Coordinate with the funeral home: Work closely with the funeral home to ensure they understand the military funeral requirements. They will help arrange the logistics, such as the location, transportation, and scheduling.

(4)Arrange for military funeral honors: The military will provide funeral honors, which typically include the folding and presentation of the flag, the playing of Taps, and a rifle salute. Ensure these honors are arranged and synchronized with the funeral service.

(5)Involve military personnel: Coordinate with military personnel to have an honor guard present at the funeral. They will perform the flag-folding ceremony and provide a solemn tribute to the fallen service member.

(6) Communicate with the family: Keep the family informed about the military funeral arrangements and provide support throughout the process. Offer assistance in obtaining any necessary documentation for military honors.

Military Decorations for the Body

Military service is marked by bravery, sacrifice, and unwavering commitment to one’s country. When a service member passes away, it is essential to honor their dedication by adorning them with appropriate military decorations. These symbols of honor and valor serve as a testament to the individual’s service and are deeply meaningful for the family and loved ones left behind. In this article, we will explore the significance of military decorations for the body, their historical context, and the protocols involved in displaying them.

(1)Purpose and Significance of Military Decorations:

Military decorations are awarded to service members to recognize acts of valor, meritorious service, and other exceptional achievements. These decorations hold great sentimental value and embody the service member’s sacrifice and dedication. When these decorations are displayed on the body during a military funeral, they serve as a visual representation of the individual’s accomplishments and commitment to their nation.

(2) Types of Military Decorations:

There are various types of military decorations that can be bestowed upon service members, depending on their achievements, rank, and branch of service. These decorations include:

– Medals: Medals are typically awarded for acts of heroism, bravery, or distinguished service. They often come in different levels, such as the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Bronze Star, each representing varying degrees of honor.

– Ribbons: Ribbons are worn to represent medals when the actual medals are not worn. They consist of colored ribbons with specific patterns and arrangements that signify the different awards received.

– Badges and Insignia: Badges and insignia represent a service member’s qualifications, specializations, and affiliations within the military. These include rank insignia, occupational badges, and combat patches.

(3)Historical Context of Military Decorations:

The tradition of military decorations dates back centuries and has evolved over time. Ancient civilizations, such as the Romans and Greeks, awarded military honors to their soldiers for acts of bravery and valor. In more recent history, military decorations gained formal recognition and became an integral part of military culture during times of war, such as World War I and World War II.

(4)Protocols for Displaying Military Decorations:

Properly displaying military decorations on the body during a military funeral requires adherence to specific protocols. Here are some key considerations:

– Placement: Military decorations are typically placed on the service member’s dress uniform or burial clothing. The placement follows a specific order of precedence, with the highest-ranking decoration placed closest to the center of the chest.

– Attachment: Medals and ribbons are attached using appropriate bars or pins designed for that purpose. These attachments ensure the decorations are secure and properly aligned.

– Respect and Care: Military decorations should be handled with utmost respect and care. When handling or adjusting the decorations, it is advisable to wear white gloves to avoid smudging or damaging them.

(5)Symbolism and Emotional Impact:

The presence of military decorations during a funeral has a profound emotional impact on the family and loved ones. These symbols of honor and sacrifice evoke a sense of pride, gratitude, and remembrance. They serve as a tangible reminder of the service member’s dedication and valor, providing comfort and solace during a time of loss.

(6)Legacy and Remembrance:

Military decorations not only honor the service member during their funeral but also contribute to their lasting legacy. They serve as a testament to their bravery and sacrifice, ensuring that future generations remember and appreciate their contributions to their country.


Military decorations for the body play a crucial role in honoring the service and sacrifice of military personnel. These symbols of honor and valor hold deep sentimental value for the family and loved ones, serving as a visual representation of the service member’s dedication to

 their nation. By understanding the purpose, historical context, and protocols associated with military decorations, we can ensure that these symbols are displayed with the utmost respect and reverence during military funerals, honoring the legacy of those who have served our country selflessly.

How to Wear a Medal Properly for Your Loved One at a Funeral

When honoring a loved one at a military funeral, it is essential to wear their medals properly. Follow these guidelines to ensure the proper display and handling of medals:

(1)Positioning: Medals should be worn on the left side of the chest, near the heart. Place them in the order of precedence, with the highest-ranking medal closest to the center of the chest.

(2)Ribbons: If the original medals are unavailable, use ribbons to represent the awards. Arrange the ribbons in the same order as the original medals.

(3) Attachments: Use proper medal attachments,

 such as bars or pins, to secure the medals or ribbons in place. Ensure they are aligned and centered correctly.

(4) Handling: Treat the medals with utmost respect and care. Use white gloves when touching or adjusting them to prevent smudging or damage.


Headstone and Additional Military Funeral Honors

In addition to the funeral service itself, there are other ways to honor a service member’s military service. These include headstones and additional funeral honors:

(1)Headstones: The Department of Veterans Affairs provides headstones or markers for eligible veterans. These markers can be customized to include the service member’s military branch, rank, and other relevant information.

(2)Burial flags: Families of deceased service members are entitled to receive a burial flag. This flag is presented to the next of kin during the funeral service and symbolizes the nation’s gratitude for the service member’s dedication and sacrifice.

Military funeral honors teams: Military funeral honors teams are composed of service members who perform ceremonial duties at funerals. They typically include a flag-folding detail, a rifle party, and a bugler to play Taps. Contact the relevant military branch to arrange for the presence of a funeral honors team.

If you need medals or other awards to honor a deceased loved one’s military service, browse the large collection at Medals of America. If you’d like to receive more informative blogs like this one, sign up for emails today.

Honoring a loved one’s military service through a proper military funeral is a heartfelt and significant tribute. By understanding the origin and history of military funerals, knowing how to conduct a military funeral service, appropriately displaying military decorations, wearing medals properly, and considering additional military funeral honors, families and funeral homes can create a dignified and meaningful farewell for their fallen heroes. Remember to consult with the relevant military branch and work closely with funeral professionals to ensure all necessary arrangements are made to honor your loved one appropriately.