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Veterans

Why Should Veterans Plan Ahead?

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Veterans

As veterans, you gave a part of your life in committed service to our nation, and we offer you a sincere and heartfelt thank you. But did you know that you can also do a great service and offer a gift of love to your family by planning ahead?

While no one likes to think about their own death, the fact remains that, one day, your family will need to make dozens of hard decisions to arrange your final life tribute. They will want to gather together, offer support to one another, remember you, and honor your legacy, including your noble service in the armed forces. Even if you don’t want a big fuss, the fact still remains: someone will be responsible for making funeral plans for you. Why couldn’t that person be you?

Why Plan Ahead?

There are so many reasons to plan ahead, but here are the top five.

1. Planning ahead can actually save your family money.

When most people are called upon to plan a funeral, they are doing so for the first time in their lives. Because of this, surviving family members don’t know very much about how to keep costs from ballooning and often end up emotionally overspending because they want “only the best” for you. However, if you put your plan in writing and your family knows exactly what your wishes are, they are generally able to save considerably by avoiding unnecessary spending.

2. Planning ahead allows your family to spend more time together.

At the time of loss, the last thing family members want to do is spend several hours at a funeral home making arrangements. With a plan in place that outlines your wishes for a final tribute, your family is able to spend more time together, offering comfort, support, and love to one another at a time when they need it most.

3. Planning ahead helps avoid arguments.

We are emotional beings, some more than others. The loss of a loved one often brings out those emotions, and if a family is torn about which options to choose, feelings can tend to run high. Even when a general consensus is reached, family members can sometimes continue to feel anxiety, doubt, and regret about the decisions that were made and how they were made. However, when family members know exactly what you want, they experience greater peace knowing that they are honoring your final wishes.

4. Planning ahead gives you time to create a meaningful and healing final tribute.

The more personal the service is, the more meaningful it will be. By planning ahead, you give yourself and your family time to plan and prepare a service (burial or cremation) that truly reflects your life and meets the emotional needs of your family. It will also give you time to mull over other questions, like whether you want to include military honors at the funeral or if you’d like to ask any fellow veterans to participate.

5. Planning ahead brings peace of mind even before you die.

Have you ever completed a big project and just felt a weight lift off your shoulders? That’s what it feels like when you finally take that step and plan ahead for your funeral wishes. Not only does it bring you peace of mind, but it can also bring comfort to family members who know that they won’t have to face those difficult decisions on one of the worst days of their lives.

Also, by planning ahead, you can ensure that you know exactly what you qualify for regarding veterans’ burial benefits. With these benefits provided by the Veterans Administration, you can further alleviate the financial burden left for your family.

What Are Your Burial Benefits?

While the Veterans Administration (VA) does not pay for everything, they do offer assistance that will help you take care of your family and create a healing and meaningful funeral ceremony.

Eligibility

The first step is to determine if you are eligible to receive the burial benefits available. The main thing to remember is that those who received honorable or general discharges qualify while those who received dishonorable discharges do not qualify. If you have questions about your eligibility, contact your local VA office.

Dependents and survivors of veterans may also be eligible for VA benefits. This means that your current spouse and any dependents are also eligible to receive certain burial benefits because of your service.

Now, let’s review the five main burial benefits available to you:

Burial Allowances

Generally speaking, when a veteran’s cause of death is not service-related, the reimbursement is described as two payments:

  1. (1) a burial and funeral expense allowance (associated with funeral or memorial options)
  2. (2) a plot interment allowance (associated with burial costs)

In a nutshell, the burial allowance is a designated dollar amount that the VA pays toward a veteran’s funeral. To receive this benefit, your family must apply following your death (or the death of a spouse or dependent child). The VA will direct deposit a designated amount into your family’s account. Then, they put it toward paying burial/cremation and funeral service costs. Due to rising costs each year, the VA increases the burial and plot allowance amounts annually.

For more detailed information on eligibility, click here.

Cemetery Interment Benefits

Choosing a final resting place is a very personal decision, and it’s always good to know your options. In the VA’s eyes, there are three types of cemeteries: national, state veterans, and private.

National Cemetery 

In addition to burial allowances, the VA also offers burial (cremated or full body) in a national cemetery through the National Cemetery Administration (www.cem.va.gov). This benefit includes a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, and a government-issued headstone. While placement is based on availability, you, your spouse, and any dependent children can be buried in a national cemetery. Of course, as with anything, there are certain rules and guidelines.

There is no charge for a burial plot in a national cemetery. Because of this, the plot allowance is not available for burial in a national cemetery. In some cases, the VA may even pay for the cost of transporting a deceased veteran to the national cemetery. Speak to a funeral director or your regional VA office to get more details.

State Veterans Cemetery 

A second option for burial is a state veterans cemetery. These cemeteries are facilitated by the individual states, not by the National Cemetery Administration, so regulations will vary. Because of this, you or a funeral professional will need to contact your nearby state veterans cemetery to see if there are any fees associated with burial there and if they allow dependents to be buried on the grounds. However, you will be eligible for a government-issued headstone as well as the plot allowance.

Private Cemeteries 

If you choose burial in a private cemetery, then you will be responsible for cemetery costs on your own. However, you will be eligible for the plot allowance to assist with the total cost. Again, you are still eligible to receive a government-issued headstone or medallion. Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery receive no benefits.

Government-Issued Headstones or Medallions

The VA will provide a government headstone or medallion to mark the grave of an eligible veteran. If you want, you can even request a government headstone for eligible dependents if they are not buried in a private cemetery. The headstone can be placed in any cemetery around the world, but the grave must be unmarked.

Additionally, if you prefer burial in a private cemetery, you can request to receive a medallion. Medallions are durable and can be easily affixed to any headstone. They offer a way to identify a veteran who elects to use a more personalized grave marker.

Click here to view the headstone and medallion options available through the National Cemetery Administration.

Burial Flags

Because the American flag is a symbol of your service and sacrifice, its presence is a tribute to your life. Due to its importance, the VA provides an American flag to drape the casket or urn, and after the funeral service, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag is issued per veteran.

Presidential Memorial Certificates

Finally, the VA offers a Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), which is an engraved certificate, signed by the current President, that is given to honor your memory and your service.

So, these five elements make up the basic lineup of burial benefits that are available to an eligible veteran. There are many details to the whole process. That’s why it’s important to work with a funeral professional and your local VA office. They will ensure you have all the answers you need.

What’s Next?

Now you know why planning ahead is beneficial and which burial benefits are available to you. The next step is to reach out to a local funeral home and get started! Do a little research and find a funeral home with a good reputation. To help you, take a moment to read 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home.

Once you’ve selected a funeral home, their staff will walk you through the rest of the process. They will make sure you don’t miss any details. With all the decisions made, you and your family will have peace of mind, knowing that everything has been taken care of.

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Veterans

Our veterans represent courage, honor, and sacrifice. Throughout our history as a nation, our military men and women have stepped up to face the opposition, protect our way of life, and preserve our freedom. Because we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, it’s appropriate that we honor them in special and symbolic ways upon their death. They served us in life; let us honor them in death.

The Department of Defense, through a program called “Honoring Those Who Served,” is responsible for providing military funeral honors. In most cases, the military personnel who participate do so on a volunteer basis. Keep in mind, military honors must be requested, so if you are in the process of planning a funeral for a veteran, work with a funeral director to make an official request.

Military funeral honors vary. A few factors that affect military honors are whether the armed forces member was active duty, retired, or a veteran; their rank; and the place of burial. For veterans buried in national cemeteries, the honors will have an added element of formality and include additional elements, such as a horse-drawn caisson for commissioned officers buried at Arlington Cemetery. Veterans buried in private cemeteries will be less formal and include fewer elements.

For now, let’s review the most common ceremonial elements and why they are significant to our veterans.

The Main Elements

Honor Guard

If a family requests military honors, at least two honor guards will attend the funeral, one of which is currently serving in the same branch that the deceased veteran did. Depending on availability and the rank of the veteran, the honor guard may consist of more members. The honor guard will carry out the requested honors with precision and respect.

Flag-Draped Casket/Urn

The flag-draped casket or urn is a prominent feature of a military funeral that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time, it was tradition to cover the dead with a flag before removal from the battlefield. Today, the tradition continues to remind the living of that person’s service and sacrifice. With the American flag, the blue field spreads at the head, over the left shoulder of the casket. After services conclude, the honor guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.

Folding of the Flag

The honor guard at the funeral will also fold and present the flag. It takes 13 individual folding movements to create the ceremonial triangle, which is intended to represent the tricorn hats worn by George Washington and his men at the foundation of our country. After the flag is folded, the service member representing the veteran’s branch of service presents the flag to the next of kin and says:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Playing of Taps

In 1862, during the Civil War, General Daniel Butterfield, with the help of bugler Oliver Norton, revised an earlier bugle call into what is now known as “Taps.” Previously, the song signaled to troops that it was time to put out the lights and go to sleep. However, shortly after Butterfield’s revisions, captain-in-charge John Tidnall presided over a funeral. He asked his men to play Taps rather than firing the customary three volleys. At the time, three volleys conveyed to the enemy an intention to begin fighting again. To avoid sending this message, the bugler simply played Taps. Since that time, the song has been associated with military funerals.

At funerals today, if a bugler is available, Taps will be played live. However, if no bugler is available, a recording of the song will always be played.

Additional Elements

To review, the honor guard, draping of the casket, folding and presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps are the core elements of a military funeral. Depending on availability, families can incorporate other symbolic actions.

These elements include:

  • Three-volley salute
  • Color guard
  • Pallbearers
  • Horse-drawn caisson
  • Military flyover

Know Your Veterans’ Benefits

In addition to the performance of these time-honored, symbolic actions, eligible veterans also receive other burial benefits. The VA offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. For instance, eligible veterans receive a burial space in a national cemetery where there is space available. This is at no cost to the family. Additionally, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans, at no cost to the family. A veteran buried in a national cemetery is also eligible to receive opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a grave liner, at no cost to the family.

To learn more about your veterans’ benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov.

Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers: Korean War Veterans Memorial

By Veterans

In steel and granite, water and earth, the creators of this memorial have brought to life the courage and sacrifice of those who served in all branches of the Armed Forces from every racial and ethnic group and background in America. They represent, once more, the enduring American truth: From many we are one.” – President Bill Clinton at the Korean War Veterans Memorial Dedication Ceremony on July 27, 1995

Memorial Day is a day set aside every year to honor and remember the many men and women who have died while serving the United States of America and its people. As we seek to honor them, let us remember them and the great sacrifices they made to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated on July 27, 1995, and was constructed to honor and memorialize the 5.8 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces during the Korean War (1950-1953). During its three short years, the Korean War claimed the lives of 36,574 Americans. Additionally, 103,284 Americans received wounds during the conflict.

The memorial also recognizes 22 members of the United Nations that contributed both troops and medical support throughout the war.

How It Came to Be

Congress received a petition for a Korean War memorial, and on April 20, 1986, they signed it into law. Under the guidance of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board, Cooper-Lecky Architects designed the memorial. They, in turn, employed several designers to complete plans for the memorial.

President George H. W. Bush conducted the groundbreaking ceremony on June 14, 1993. Just two years later, on July 27, 1995, President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea, officially dedicated the memorial. The dedication day was significant because it marked the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

Significant Features of the Memorial

Located in West Potomac Park, just southeast of the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial makes a lasting impression on those who view it. On the dedication stone, these words appear:

Our nation honors her sons and daughters
who answered the call to defend a country
they never knew and a people they never met.

There are several prominent features to the memorial, each one significant and intentional.

Mural Wall

The memorial is built in the form of a triangle, with the tip intersecting the Pool of Remembrance. One side of the triangle is the mural wall, designed by Louis Nelson. Made of polished black granite (164 feet long, 8 inches thick), the mural wall consists of 41 different panels with over 2,400 photographs from the Korean War sandblasted onto the granite. The images selected represent Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard personnel and their equipment.

19 Stainless Steel Statues

If the wall doesn’t command your attention first, the 19 stainless steel statues displayed within the walled triangle will. Designed by Frank Gaylord, each figure stands more than seven feet tall and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. Together, the statues represent a platoon on patrol and all Armed Forces branches are present (Army – 14; Marine Corps – 3; Navy – 1; Air Force – 1). Dressed in full combat gear, they stand amidst strips of granite and juniper bushes, which represent Korea’s rice paddies.

The mural wall stands nearby, and due to the granite’s reflective quality, there actually appear to be 38 soldiers reflected on its surface. The soldiers represent the 38 months of the war and the 38th parallel, which still forms the border between North and South Korea.

The Pool of Remembrance

At the head of the triangle sits the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool lined in granite and surrounded by trees and benches. Nearby, engraved granite blocks pay tribute to the lives affected by the war.

Dead — United States: 54,246*, United Nations: 628,833

Wounded — United States: 103,284, United Nations: 1,064,453

Captured — United States: 7,140, United Nations: 92,970

Missing — United States: 8,177, United Nations: 470,267

United Nations Wall

On the north side of the statues is the United Nations Wall. This wall lists the 22 United Nations members who contributed both troops and medical support to the war effort.

Why Do We Have Memorials?

Permanent memorials ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. They also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones. There are five key reasons why permanent memorials are important, whether it is to commemorate an event, a group of people, or just one person, like a close loved one.

  1. A permanent memorial provides a place for people to mourn.
  2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with those who have died.
  3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.
  4. A permanent memorial allows people the opportunity to remember and reflect on the lives lived.
  5. It demonstrates our honor and respect for those who have died.

For many of our veterans, a large-scale memorial honors the group as a whole, as is the case with Korean War veterans and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. However, for individuals, families set headstones, grave markers, or inscriptions in place. Both types of memorialization are important and honoring to our veterans and our loved ones.

Want to Get Involved?

In 2016, President Barack Obama authorized the installation of a Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The Wall of Remembrance will specifically name the 36,574 Americans who lost their lives during the war. Funding is coming in from private donations. If you would like to help with this effort to honor veterans of the Korean War, please visit www.koreanwarvetsmemorial.org.

*In 2000, 5 years after the memorial’s dedication, it was discovered that a clerical error had been made and the total 54,246 included deaths that occurred outside the Korean War theater. The correct number is 36,574.

Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers: Vietnam Veterans Memorial

By Veterans

Our nation honors the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of its Vietnam veterans.”

– Inscription on the Memorial Wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Memorial Day is a day set aside every year to honor and remember the many men and women who have died while serving the United States of America and its people. As we seek to honor them, let us remember them and the great sacrifices they made to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Dedicated on November 13, 1982 (Veterans Day), the Vietnam Veterans Memorial exists to honor the courage, sacrifice, and devotion of our American men and women who served in the Vietnam War (Nov 1955 – Apr 1975). Of the 3 million people who died during the conflict, more than 58,000 were Americans. The memorial not only honors the memory of those who died in hostile encounters but all those who served. This includes those still considered missing and the women who served as nurses.

There are three main parts to the memorial: The Memorial Wall (November 13, 1982), the Three Soldiers (November 11, 1984), and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial (November 11, 1993).

How it Came to Be

In April 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was established with the intent to fund a memorial for Vietnam veterans. Jan C. Scruggs, a wounded Vietnam veteran himself, began the call for a memorial, saying that it would help bring healing to the roughly 3 million Americans who served in the war. Within three years, private donations raised $8.4 million, which included contributions from more than 275,000 Americans.

In July 1980, Congress chose and authorized a site for the memorial. In order to determine the memorial’s design, several federal agencies arranged a competition. By March 30, 1981, they received more than 1,400 submissions. For the sake of fairness and anonymity, no names accompanied the entries. Each entry had an assigned number. In the end, it was entry number 1,026 that won – a woman named Maya Lin.

Due to some controversy surrounding Lin’s design (some thought it too greatly resembled a large tombstone), it was decided to commission Frederick Hart (another design competition entrant) to create a more traditional sculpture. This is how The Three Soldiers came to be. The dedication for The Three Soldiers took place on November 11, 1984, two years after the Memorial Wall.

On November 11, 1993, the Women’s Vietnam Memorial dedication took place. It was designed by Glenna Goodacre to honor the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War.

Significant Features of the Memorial

Memorial Wall

The Memorial Wall consists of two long, granite walls (246 feet long, 9 inches deep), each polished to a high sheen to create a mirror effect. Each wall possesses 72 panels (144 panels total), each etched with the names of servicemen. When you look at the wall, you can see your own reflection as well as the etched names. This was Maya Lin’s way of symbolically bringing the past and the present together.

At its dedication, the wall listed 57,939 names, but as of May 2018, there are 58,320 names, including eight women. The number of names on the wall differs from the official numbers because some families requested the omission of a veteran’s name. The etched names include all service members declared dead (not necessarily killed in action) as well as those whose status is unknown (missing in action).

Listed in chronological order, the listed names are based on the date of their casualty. Oftentimes, visitors create a rubbing as a memento of their loved one. They place a piece of paper over a name, and using a crayon or pencil, transfer the inscription to paper.

The Three Soldiers

Located a short distance from the Memorial Wall, the more traditional bronze statue of three soldiers stands. At the time of its selection, some people disapproved of the memorial wall’s design. Due to dissenting opinions, The Three Soldiers was commissioned to add a more traditional element. Frederick Hart created the statue that now stands.

The Three Soldiers depicts men who represent the ethnic groups most heavily involved in the war’s combat forces – a Hispanic man, an African American man, and a Caucasian man. From their final placement, it appears as if the three men are looking at the Memorial Wall, as if giving silent tribute to their fallen comrades.

The Women’s Vietnam Memorial

Added at a later date, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial honors the thousands of women who served during the Vietnam War, mostly as nurses. Designed by gifted sculptor Glenna Goodacre, the statue depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier.

Diane Carlson, a former Army nurse, first advocated for a memorial to recognize the women’s contribution to the war effort. After ten years, Presidents Reagan and Bush approved the memorial. The dedication took place on November 11, 1993. The addition of the Women’s Vietnam Memorial marked the first establishment of a memorial in the nation’s capital to recognize the patriotic service of women.

“In Memory” Plaque

Established on November 10, 2004, the “In Memory” plaque is a final notable feature of the memorial. Placed near The Three Soldiers, the plaque honors veterans who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in Vietnam but who are not eligible for placement on the Memorial Wall (per Department of Defense guidelines). This includes those who died from PTSD-related illnesses, Hodgkin’s and Parkinson’s, exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange, and cancer.

Made of black granite (2 feet tall, 3 feet wide), the inscription reads: “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice.”

Why Do We Have Memorials?

Permanent memorials ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. They also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones. Permanent memorials are important for five key reasons.

  1. A permanent memorial provides a place for people to mourn.
  2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with those who have died.
  3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.
  4. A permanent memorial allows people the opportunity to remember and reflect on the lives lived.
  5. It demonstrates our honor and respect for those who have died.

For many of our veterans, a large-scale memorial honors the group as a whole, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. However, headstones, grave markers, or inscriptions set in place by their families honor them as individuals. Both types of memorialization are important and honoring to our veterans and our loved ones.

Foreground: American flag backlit by the sun. Background: a grouping of American flags.

Helping Veterans

In 2017, as part of the 35th anniversary commemoration of the memorial, all 58,282 names were read aloud in the days just prior to Veterans Day. Volunteers, Vietnam veterans, family members of fallen Vietnam veterans, and employees of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund began reading the names early in the week and only took a break between midnight and 5 a.m. Every five years, a group of volunteers read aloud each person’s name. This tradition remembers each person individually and honors them specifically.

If you would like to support our Vietnam veterans, consider partnering with Vietnam Veterans of America, an organization that offers veterans services and outreach programs for Vietnam veterans.

Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

By Veterans

Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” – Inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Memorial Day is a day set aside every year to honor and remember the many men and women who have died while serving our nation. As we seek to honor them, let us remember them and the great sacrifices they made to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Lasting from July 1914 to November 1918, more than 4 million Americans served in World War I. In the end, more than 8 million soldiers across the world died in the conflict, with over 116,000 of them being American. Thousands of soldiers remained unidentified at the end of the war, and in 1920, the United Kingdom dedicated its own Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the following year, the United States, France, and Italy all dedicated their own memorials to the unidentified dead of the war. To this day, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the most hallowed grave at Arlington Cemetery.

How It Came to Be

On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier to honor the unidentified dead of the war. In November, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from the four World War I American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sergeant Edward Younger, a decorated veteran, selected one of the caskets at random to be taken to Washington, D.C., for burial at the memorial. Once in the United States, the unknown soldier lay in state at the Capital from his arrival on November 9 until Veterans Day (then called Armistice Day). An estimated 90,000 people came to pay their respects during his time at the Capitol. On November 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding officiated the interment ceremonies at the memorial.

Eventually, the remains of unidentified soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War would join their World War I compatriot in nearby interment locations marked with white marble slabs. However, in 1998, DNA testing identified the unknown Vietnam soldier. After his identification, the family received his remains. The Vietnam crypt remains vacant to this day, though an inscription was added, which says, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

Significant Features of the Memorial

When it was first constructed, the memorial did not include the rectangular, white marble sarcophagus that we now associate with the memorial. Instead, a simple marble slab covered the tomb’s opening. It was always intended that a structure sit atop the crypt, but it wasn’t until July 1926 that the funds were authorized. Then, in 1929, Lorimer Rich and Thomas Hudson Jones’ design was approved, and construction officially began.

The Tomb

Using Yule marble quarried from Marble, Colorado, the tomb consists of seven large pieces. It is flat-faced with neoclassic columns. Sculpted onto the east panel are three Greek figures, symbolizing peace, victory, and valor, commemorating the spirit of the Allies. And on the north and south panels, six inverted wreaths are sculpted, symbolizing mourning and representing the six major campaigns in World War I fought by Americans: Battel of Ardennes, Battle of Belleau Wood, Battle of Chateau-Thierry, Meusse-Argonne, Aisne-Marne, and the Battle of the Somme.

Perhaps most remembered is the inscription on the western panel, which reads:

Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God

Tomb Guards

Perhaps as well known as the tomb itself are the Sentinels, or the tomb guards. It is considered one of the highest honors to serve as a Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Additionally, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guard Identification Badge is the second least-awarded qualification badge in the U.S. military (the first least-awarded is the astronaut badge).

Since 1948, all of the Sentinels have come out of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, or “The Old Guard.” While they are guarding the tomb, the Sentinels do not wear rank insignia. By doing this, they will never outrank the Unknowns. The Sentinels command silence and respect at the tomb and will confront visitors who cross the barriers of the tomb or display loud or disrespectful behavior.

While they are actively guarding the tomb, the Sentinels “walk the mat” and follow a meticulous routine:

  1. March 21 steps south down the 63′ long, black mat laid before the tomb
  2. Turn and face east, toward the tomb, for 21 seconds
  3. Turn and face north, change weapon to outside shoulder, and wait 21 seconds
  4. March 21 steps down the mat
  5. Turn and face east for 21 seconds
  6. Turn and face south, change weapon to outside shoulder, and wait 21 seconds
  7. The routine repeats until the changing of the guard

The number 21 is significant because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed – the 21-gun salute.

Since 1937, guards have watched over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Sentinels must meet the highest standards of behavior for their entire lifetime. If they do anything throughout their lifetime to disrespect the tomb, they risk their badge. While the Sentinels are usually male, three women have held the honored post.

Why Do We Have Memorials?

Permanent memorials ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. They also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones. There are five key reasons why permanent memorials are important.

  1. A permanent memorial provides a place for people to mourn.
  2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with those who have died.
  3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.
  4. A permanent memorial allows people the opportunity to remember and reflect on the lives lived.
  5. It remembers and respects the dead.

For many of our veterans, a large-scale memorial honors the group as a whole, as is the case with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, headstones, grave markers, or inscriptions set in place by their families honor them as individuals. Both types of memorialization are important and honoring to our veterans and our loved ones.

How You Can Help

While all of our World War I veterans have died, we can still remember them and honor their sacrifice. Wreaths Across America takes donations throughout the year, and every December, they lay a wreath of remembrance on the grave of as many veterans as possible. You can sponsor a wreath or volunteer to distribute them at cemeteries across the United States and beyond. Whatever you choose, sponsoring a wreath is a touching way to remember those who gave so much to our nation.

Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers: World War II Memorial

By Veterans

It is altogether fitting and proper that we gather this weekend [Memorial Day weekend] and in this place to memorialize the people, places, and events that forever changed the course of history and turned back a rising tide of tyranny – when the fate of the free world hung in the balance.”

– President George W. Bush at the World War II Memorial’s Dedication Ceremony on May 29, 2004

Memorial Day is a day set aside every year to honor and remember the many men and women who have died while serving the United States of America and its people. As we seek to honor them, let us remember them and the great sacrifices they made to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

World War II Memorial

The World War II Memorial was dedicated on May 29, 2004, and was constructed to honor and memorialize those brave Americans who served in the Armed Forces and as civilians during World War II. More than 16 million people served in the United States Armed Forces during World War II, including more than 400,000 who gave their lives to the cause. While the conflict began in Europe in 1939, the United States did not enter the war until 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the ensuing years, many Americans applied themselves diligently to the war effort, and ultimately, with many allies across multiple countries, emerged victorious.

How It Came to Be

It took several years for the memorial to become a reality. In 1987, World War II veteran Roger Durbin first approached a U.S. Representative about the construction of a memorial for World War II veterans. It took a few years, but in 1993, the Senate approved the request. Soon after, President Bill Clinton signed the World War II Act into law. After the Act passed, it took several years to raise funds, finalize blueprints, and construct the memorial.

Significant Features of the Memorial

Located along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., directly between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial stands in stately grace at the former site of the Rainbow Pool. Prominently displayed nearby, an announcement stone declares:

Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln,
one the eighteenth century father and the other the
nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor
those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle
during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to
perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us—
a nation conceived in liberty and justice.

Consisting of 56 pillars, two small triumphal arches, a square, and a fountain, the World War II Memorial was opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and officially dedicated on May 29, 2004.

Surrounding a large pool are granite columns representing each U.S. state and territory at the time of World War II. Additionally, two triumphal arches labeled “Atlantic” and “Pacific” represent the two war fronts.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the memorial is the Freedom Wall. The wall displays 4,048 gold stars, representing the ultimate sacrifice paid by more than 400,000 Americans. Each star represents 100 Americans who lost their lives during the conflict. In front of the wall, an inscribed stone fittingly states, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”

Why Do We Have Memorials?

Permanent memorials ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. They also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones. There are five key reasons why permanent memorials are important, whether it is to commemorate an event, a group of people, or just one person, like a close loved one.

  1. A permanent memorial provides a place for people to mourn.
  2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with those who have died.
  3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.
  4. A permanent memorial allows people the opportunity to remember and reflect on the lives lived.
  5. It ensures that the dead are remembered and respected.

For many of our veterans, a large-scale memorial honors the group as a whole. This is the case with World War II veterans and the World War II Memorial. However, for individuals, families set headstones, grave markers, or inscriptions in place. Both types of memorialization are important and honoring to our veterans and our loved ones.

Want to Get Involved?

If you would like to help veterans visit Washington, D.C. and the memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice, consider joining Honor Flight Network in making their mission a continued reality. Since 2005, Honor Flight has flown 180,261 veterans to Washington, D.C., and their important work continues.

Also, the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, founded in 2007, is “dedicated to honoring and preserving the national memory of World War and to creating the next ‘Greatest Generation’ of tomorrow.” To learn more about their mission, visit www.wwiimemorialfriends.org.

Does the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Pay for a Veteran’s Funeral?

By Plan Ahead, Veterans

How much do you really know about Veterans’ Burial Benefits? Do you know how much the VA will pay toward a veteran’s funeral? Do you know which benefits you or your loved one are eligible for?

Among veterans, there are a lot of misconceptions about veterans’ burial benefits, and it’s understandable. When it comes to burial benefits, most service men and women don’t really get a good explanation of what they are eligible for during their time in the Armed Forces. Some veterans assume they know what they will receive, and they plan accordingly based on misconceptions. Unfortunately, at the time of death, these misconceptions can make a difficult time even more difficult for their families, creating needless anxiety, worry, and doubt.

Test your knowledge of veterans’ benefits by taking a look at the questions below:

Two older veterans, smiling

Will the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pay for a veteran’s funeral in full?

A: No, the VA will not pay for a veteran’s funeral in full. This applies to both cremation services and traditional funerals. However, the VA does provide a specified amount, called a burial allowance. The burial allowance amount varies based on several factors, including whether or not the death was service-related, if the veteran was hospitalized at the VA, when the death occurred, and where the veteran has chosen to be buried.

Am I automatically eligible for burial benefits simply because I was once in the service?

A: No, there are eligibility requirements that a veteran must meet to qualify for burial and funeral benefits.

Will my family receive funds from the government in advance of the funeral?

A: In 2014, the VA simplified their program, and now, a flat burial allowance rate is automatically paid to an eligible surviving spouse. However, without notification of the veteran’s death, the VA cannot process the payment of a burial allowance. For additional benefits (e.g. plot, interment or transportation allowances), a claim must be filed, processed, and approved.

Marines in full uniform from the side, standing at attention.

Are there cases where the VA pays nothing toward a veteran’s funeral?

A: Yes. A veteran is not eligible for standard burial benefits if they 1) received a dishonorable discharge, 2) died during active military service (where different regulations apply), 3) were a member of Congress and died while holding office, or 4) were a Federal prisoner.

If a spouse predeceases the veteran, can that spouse be buried at a national cemetery?

A: As a matter of fact, yes, the spouse can (this must be a legal spouse and does not apply to any former spouses). This benefit applies to a living veteran’s dependents as well.

Who is eligible for burial in a national cemetery?

A: With some restrictions and eligibility requirements:

  1. Veterans and members of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard)
  2. Members of Reserve Components and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
  3. Commissioned Officers from both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service
  4. World War II Merchant Mariners
  5. Some Philippine Armed Forces veterans
  6. Spouses and dependents of veterans
  7. Parents of veterans
  8. Others who receive specific approval from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Looking down a row at a vetrans national cemetery

Can you reserve a national cemetery gravesite in advance?

A: No, the actual gravesite cannot be reserved, but the family can complete advance funeral planning arrangements. The benefit to advance planning is that when the need arises, the VA merely re-verifies previously submitted documentation. The surviving family does not need to contact the VA directly, but instead, can work in partnership with their chosen funeral home to plan a meaningful service

What does the VA provide for veterans buried in a national cemetery?

A: Burial in any open VA national cemetery is available to eligible veterans. This includes, at no cost to the family:

  1. opening/closing of the grave
  2. a grave liner
  3. perpetual care of the gravesite
  4. headstone or marker

Additionally, veterans are also eligible for a burial flag and the Presidential Memorial Certificate.

Men and women in fatigues, saluting, backs to the camera

What does the VA provide for veterans buried in a private cemetery?

A: Eligible veterans may receive a burial allowance as well as a government-issued headstone (or marker or medallion), a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. However, any spouses or dependents buried in a private cemetery receive no benefits.

Does the VA pay for cremation services?

A: No, they do not, but they do provide a burial allowance for eligible families. The family pays for any funeral costs (including embalming, a memorial service, a casket or an urn, etc.) at their own expense. However, the burial allowance can help toward the overall cost, if the family is eligible. Both cremated and casketed remains buried or inurned at a national cemetery receive the same honors. As with a traditional funeral, the VA will provide a space for burial or inurnment, perpetual care, a marker, burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

Does the VA provide burial at sea?

A: No, they do not, but you can contact the United States Navy Mortuary Affairs office toll-free at 1-866-787-0081 with questions.

What is the Avenue of Flags?

A: In some national cemeteries, the Avenue of Flags or the “Avenue of Remembrance” is an everyday feature, while in others, it is reserved for special days of the year (like Veterans Day or Memorial Day). Flags upon flags line the main pathways of the cemetery, each one representing and honoring a life lived in service to the United States. In many cases, the flags flying are burial flags. On the day of a veteran’s funeral, the family receives a burial flag, and some families choose to donate the flag to the cemetery, to honor their loved one’s memory. The flags create a solemn and reverent atmosphere for those who served our country well. Contact the national cemetery of your choice to ask questions about donating a flag.

Honoring our Veterans on Independence Day

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal, Veterans

This Fourth of July, many will gather for swim parties, burger grilling, and firework displays. We do these things because we want to reflect the American spirit on the day that commemorates the formation of our country. But the holiday also offers us a chance to honor the veterans who have made extraordinary sacrifices in service to this country. To better understand how Independence Day relates to our veterans, we must first examine the history of the holiday.

The Backdrop

The historical event that the holiday is based on, the creation of the Declaration of Independence, occurred during the Revolutionary War. While the Declaration of Independence formally announced the separation from Britain, the seeds of revolution grew over a period of 10 years. Years earlier, in 1765, Britain passed the Stamp Act, which was a direct tax on any material printed by the American colonists. The actual cost of the tax was less disturbing to Americans than the precedent that it established; Britain felt free to impose a level of control upon the colonies that the founding fathers were uncomfortable with.

No Taxation without Representation

The colonists resisted the tax, and Britain responded by imposing more taxes. Over the next few years, a pattern began to form: the colonists rebelled against legislation that they found unfair, Britain responded by tightening the screws, the colonists protested more vehemently, and the laws continued to get stricter and stricter.

In 1973, Boston passed the Tea Act. The colonists responded by hurling East India Company tea into the Boston harbor in the event that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. This act put an even greater strain on the relationship between Britain and the colonies, and full-scale war was soon to follow.

On April 19, 1775, Paul Revere completed his famous ride, warning the American soldiers of the arrival of the British. Hoping to gain military supplies, British soldiers headed for Concord, only to be stopped at Lexington by American gunfire. After a brief skirmish, the colonists retreated, and British troops pressed on to Concord. But at Concord, the colonists gained the upper hand, and the British retreated to Boston. This victory for the colonists marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

The Declaration of Independence

On June 11, 1776, a little more than a year after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, a committee at the Second Continental Congress selected Thomas Jefferson to write the first draft of the document that would come to be known as The Declaration of Independence. The committee chose young Jefferson over several already legendary American figures: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

After several changes to the first draft, America released the final document on July 4, 1776. The declaration officially marked America’s break from Britain and claimed independence for the 13 colonies. Independence Day commemorates the creation of this document, which outlines American values.

Contemporary Relevance

The Declaration of Independence is inseparable from the context of the Revolutionary War. For this reason, we link the holiday not only to America, but more specifically to American soldiers. The main principles of the document–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–are what the American soldiers of the 18th century gave their lives for. Many veterans have since served our country with the same commitment.

Independence Day provides us with an opportunity to remember those who have given so much for their country. The veterans who have served in the spirit of preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have made great sacrifices, and we need to take the time to express our gratitude.

Acknowledging Your Service

If you or a loved one are a veteran, we’d like to say a special thank you. We are thankful for your service and sacrifice. Also, we’d like to highlight an important issue that you need to be aware of: veterans’ burial benefits. It’s important that you are well-informed on the benefits that you are eligible for, as well as the restrictions and limitations that may apply.

Get answers to frequently asked questions, such as:

  • What are my burial benefits as a veteran?
  • Will the VA pay for my funeral?
  • What type of reimbursement or allowance does the VA provide for funeral expenses?
  • What benefits will my family members receive?
  • How do I ensure that my family receives my veterans’ benefits?
  • What happens if my non-veteran spouse or child dies first?
  • Does the VA cover the cost of transportation to a national or state cemetery?

For more information, visit this page.

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