Posts Tagged ‘missing man formation’

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Funerals at Arlington National Cemetery

One of my favorite destinations during my lunchtime bike rides is Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from D.C. via the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  I choose to ride there fairly frequently because there is so much to see and take in there, and there are always funerals, ceremonies or other events going on.  On this ride, I was privileged to witness an honors funeral, and it was a emotional and meaningful ceremony.

The primary mission of Arlington National Cemetery is to function as the nation’s premier military cemetery and shrine honoring United States soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen who died in battle, or is a veteran, or a prominent military figure or a U.S. President.  Families come from all over the country to bury their loved ones at Arlington.  And in addition to the fact that it is some of our nation’s most hallowed ground, one of the reasons they come to Arlington is because of the rich history of military honors that makes the services there so special.

The most common service, referred to as standard military honors, is available to any enlisted service member or officer. The standard honors consist of a six-man honorary detail to serve as pallbearers, a rifle party consisting of an odd number of service members of between 3 and 7 members depending on the rank of the deceased, and a bugler to play taps, as well as a chaplain.  The casket is transported via a horse-drawn limbers and caissons, or a hearse.  The pallbearers carry the flag draped casket to the grave and hold the flag over the casket while the chaplain speaks.  Following the committal service the firing party is called to attention and fires a three-volley salute.  Fighter jets from the Air Force may also perform an aerial flyover known as the missing man formation.  The lone bugler then plays taps, at a distance 30 to 50 yards from the grave site while a “Final Salute” is given.  This is followed by the pallbearers folding the flag and presenting it to the deceased’s next of kin.

Arlington National is the only military cemetery in the United States that offers on a regular basis a full military honors funeral. This type of funeral is available at the family’s request to officers and warrant officers, and may consist of a procession to the gravesite that may include a marching band, a marching escort of troops, and a four-man color guard.  Included in this type of service may also be a caparisoned horse, without a rider, with boots reversed in the stirrups. The horse follows the caisson carrying the casket.  The chaplain joins the procession as well, in front of the limbers and caissons, and behind the escort, band, and color guard. Once at the gravesite, the service is identical to the standard honors service described above, with the exception that the band plays while the casket is taken to the grave and while the flag is being folded, the entire element that makes up the full honors ceremony remains throughout the service.

Arlington National Cemetery currently serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families.  And that number continues to grow.  The cemetery remains active with funeral services Monday through Saturday, conducting between 27 and 30 services each week day and between 6 and 8 services on Saturdays.  Funeral services are held from Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays, between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.  Saturday services are held from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for placements and services for cremated remains that do not require military honors or military chaplain support.  Services are not scheduled on Saturdays that precede a Federal holiday on Monday.

So if you are privileged enough to be able to visit Arlington National Cemetery, keep in mind that it continues to be an active military cemetery, and display the proper respect that is due.  And if there is an opportunity to view an honors funeral while you are there, the experience is very much worth it.

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Today marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, also commonly referred to as VE Day, which was a public holiday celebrated on May 8th in 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the United States and the Allied powers of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers, resulting in the end of the World War II in Europe. Beginning on that day, airplanes flying overhead meant celebration and the return of good times instead of fear and destruction.

During today’s bike ride I had the opportunity to stop and watch an unusual event to mark this anniversary. In celebration of the anniversary of VE Day, and to honor the heroes who fought in the War, as well as other members of our country’s “greatest generation” who contributed to the war effort on the home front by building the aircraft, tanks and ships that enabled the United States and its Allies to win the war, there was a flyover event above the national capitol city today. And the airplanes flying overheard today to celebrate the victorious end of the war were some of the same aircraft that flew 70 years ago.

The event was named “Arsenal of Democracy: World War II Victory Capitol Flyover,” and featured more than 50 World War II-era bombers, and fighters and trainers. Included in today’s flyover was a Boeing B-29 Superfortress nicknamed Fifi, the only known model still flying, which was the type of plane that dropped atomic bombs on Japan. Also among today’s airplanes were B-25 Mitchell bombers, which were adapted for the aircraft carrier Hornet for the Doolittle Raid over Japan. Dick Cole, who will turn 100 years old this fall, and who was co-pilot of the first bomber flying off the Hornet, was in attendance today. A TBM Avenger also participated today. It led a “missing man” formation, and was scheduled to be flown by Congressman Samuel Bruce “Sam” Graves, Jr., with Congressman Theodore Edward “Todd” Rokita riding along as a passenger.  The Avenger is the type of plane flown during the war by George H.W. Bush, who was the event’s honorary chairman.

Flying just 1,000 or so feet off the ground over the city’s highly restricted airspace where aircraft are otherwise prohibited, the planes flew south along the Potomac River flew down the Potomac River, turned left at The Lincoln Memorial and followed Independence Avenue along the south side of the National Mall and over The National World War II Memorial, where there was a large assemblage of World War II veterans gathered at the Memorial for a special ceremony honoring them.  The aircraft then banked right away from the U.S. Capitol Building and turned south again and flew along the Potomac River.  As they passed over the city the aircraft flew in over a dozen historically sequenced warbird formations that were designed to commemorate the War’s major battles, from Pearl Harbor through the final air assault on Japan, and concluding with a missing man formation to “Taps.”

It was a near perfect day for an air show, with very few clouds in the skies and clear visibility.  The flyovers were scheduled to start at 12:10pm, and started right on schedule.  By that time I had found a shady spot under some trees near the Lincoln Memorial, where I sat back with some blueberry ice tea and then watched the show.  It lasted approximately an hour, and then I had to head back to my office.  And it’s a good thing I was on a bike, because traffic downtown was nearly gridlocked from the thousands of people who came to see the show.

After the flyover was over, some of the airplanes flew to Dulles Airport where they will be on display tomorrow from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  I did not ride my bike out there to see them though because it’s about 60 miles, and my lunch breaks are not long enough for that far of a bike ride.

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