Honoring America’s Military Funeral Professionals This 4th of July

Image Source: Linda LaBonte Britt

The 4th of July holiday has long been a summer favorite for many across the proud Red, White and Blue. For most people, this long holiday weekend means the chance to grill out with friends and family, light off some celebratory fireworks, and honor the country that we all know and love. But for those of us in the funeral profession, this three day holiday weekend is just another hard working weekend where we’re on call helping families, busy planning a service, or doing our best to make someone’s difficult weekend just a little bit easier.

Sadly, many of us have gotten used to working in a sometimes thankless or underappreciated profession. The truth is, many people just don’t realize how diligent and dedicated those of us in the funeral profession are. And they don’t realize that the majority of us give up these long holiday weekends spent with our own family, so that we can be there for theirs. So today, in honor of the patriotic Independence Day holiday, we wanted to step back and give thanks to some of America’s most heroic and honorable funeral professionals.

Many people don’t realize that, in addition to the hard working men and women of their own hometown funeral home, there are thousands of military and government funeral professionals that work year-round for their country. It’s thanks to them, and countless others, that many of our friends and family can take this weekend off and celebrate their hard-earned freedom. Today, we celebrate them!

National Cemetery Workers

Did you know that there are over 131 national cemeteries in America? And every single one of these cemeteries is home to many funeral professionals who are responsible for overseeing graveside services, carrying out perpetual care wishes and, above all, laying to rest those who have served our country with the utmost dignity and honor. These dedicated professionals connect guests to the rich tapestry of America’s military history, while also maintaining some of the nation’s most hallowed grounds “befitting the sacrifice of all those who rest here in quiet repose.”

One of the most famous of these Army National Military Cemeteries is Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. This beautiful military cemetery conducts between 27 and 30 funeral services each weekday, and between 6 and 8 services on Saturday. With more than 400,000 interments, Arlington National Cemetery has the second-largest number of burials of any national cemetery in the US. (Second only to Calverton National Cemetery in Long Island.)

Mortuary Affairs Soldiers

There is an entire mortuary affairs track for enlisted military members who are interested in helping serve their country through caring for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. The duties of those enlisted in mortuary affairs includes caring for deceased personnel, including recovering, collecting, evacuating and transporting. They also inventory, safeguard and evacuate the personal effects of deceased personnel.

Staff Sgt. Gerald Peckham, who returned to the military after years of service to join the casualty and mortuary affairs unit, said the job was among the hardest, yet most important he faced in the military. An honor he felt he owed fallen Soldiers.

“Soldiers will have very sentimental things on them like a rosary or a cross or a wedding ring,” he said. “A lot … of them go out there on missions and they have that stuff as good luck. I know that the survivors  — especially if they’re married — they want their husband’s wedding ring or rosary or whatever, credit cards, things like that. All that needs to be taken care of.”

It is these mortuary affairs soldiers who are responsible for searching for the decreased, disinterring remains, recording personal effects, establishing tentative identification, and assisting in preparation, preservation and shipment of remains to the Dover Air Force office.

Dover Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office

One of the largest funeral-related military units in the country is the Dover Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office (AFMAO) in Delaware. Their mission (and privilege) is to fulfill the nation’s sacred commitment of ensuring honor, dignity and respect to fallen military professionals. From the time that remains arrive at Dover Air Force Base, these dedicated Soldiers remain with the deceased at all times, moving them from the aircraft, to the Port Mortuary, to the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs where they are identified and prepared for transport to their final destination.

Over 80 military and civilian personnel work in the Port Mortuary, including support from deployed active duty and Reserve members from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and permanent licensed mortuary specialists.

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jennifer Howell joined AFMAO to serve a 4-year controlled tour. “I passed through AFMAO back in 2006 for a brief period and my experience was completely overpowering,” said Howell. “I could not pass up the chance to come back and serve at AFMAO. The mission here is difficult but the most satisfying I’ve had in my history of funeral and Naval service. The care and respect given to the heroes that pass through this facility is beyond belief.”

To read more about the amazing work done by the men and women at the Dover Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office (and to be inspired by the care, dedication and love that they put into their work), be sure to check out the article “Last Inspection: Precise Ritual of Dressing Nation’s War Dead.”

Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams

Last, but certainly not least, are the mortuary professionals who step up when the country needs them the most – the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMORTs). Started in the 1980s by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) as a way to address and combat mass casualty situations, the group includes funeral directors, medical examiners, coroners, pathologists, forensic anthropologists, and many more. Together, they work to provide victim identification and mortuary services during national crisis situations – including helping during the September 11th attacks and the hurricane Katrina disaster.

The various members of DMORTs are composed of private citizens, each with a particular field of expertise, who are called upon in the event of a disaster. The responsibility of members include setting up temporary morgue facilities, victim identification, forensic dental pathology, processing, preparation, and disposition of remains.

This weekend, whether you are celebrating Independence Day with family and friends, or you are hard at work in your funeral home, take a second to give thanks to the hard-working military professionals that we are lucky enough to call our mortuary co-workers. Together, we all are working toward the same mission – to honor the lives in front of us and to help families celebrate and remember their loved ones.

How are you spending your 4th of July weekend? Are you doing anything at your funeral home to celebrate the many military lives that we remember this weekend while celebrating our freedom? Tell us in the comments below!

Joe Joachim


More Posts - Website

Follow Me:

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments.