MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
Taking care of their own is something Marines don’t take lightly.
They take care of fellow Marines who have died in battle or even long after they have taken off the uniform by honoring them at their funerals.
Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany’s military operations section is the lead for funeral details for those active-duty, former or retired Marines who will be buried in the local or nearby area, according to Bob James, deputy director, Operations and Training Division, MCLB Albany.
“It is something Marines take very seriously,” James said, noting the section is exceeding the rates of last year and are already up to nearly 30 for this year. “We honor all Marines who have faithfully served, whether it was a week, a year, 30 years. It is a very solemn responsibility that we take here.”
James recommended that current, retired or former Marines prepare for their burials in their wills so their families aren’t under a lot of strain when the time comes.
Active-duty, former, retired or reserve Marines who were discharged under honorable conditions can receive the honors, which is among the guidance and procedures Marine Corps Order P3040.4E, Casualty Procedures Manual, Chapter 7, according to Master Sgt. Mark Carabello, Staff Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge of training, Base Operations, Operations and Training Division, MCLB Albany.
Upon request, the Marine Corps will also render/assist in military funeral honors support for a service member of another branch of service such as Navy corpsmen or chaplains who served with the Marine Corps and were honorably separated, Carabello said.
Next of kin or a funeral home director should notify the Headquarters Marine Corps Casualty Branch if they are requesting military funeral honors from MCLB Albany and only the HQMC Casualty Branch can officially task a Marine unit to perform these honors, he said.
“The command recognizes the need to honor any Marine who honorably served and we do our utmost to provide what the family wants and that could include a firing detail, pallbearers, playing of Taps and a flag-folding presentation,” James said.
To prepare for the solemn ceremonies the Marines consider part of their heritage and traditions, military operations section members go through a complex process once they receive a notice via e-mail from the HQMC Casualty Branch.
“At a minimum, they try to give at least a 24-hour notice,” Carabello said. “Normally, we’ll have between a 48-hour up to no more than a 72-hour notice once we receive the tasking. The next step from there is we’ll identify who’s available to perform, how many Marines we can provide, coordinate our logistics (and) practice. We’ll coordinate with the funeral home to acknowledge to them that we received the tasker, verify the person, where being buried, when being buried, the type of service, whether it’s a casket or an urn because that’s going to determine how we physically would perform those honors. We also will contact the next of kin and give our condolences over the phone and we will let them know what we are providing. Once we understand their desires then we’ll practice accordingly.”
Each funeral is unique, he said.
“It is our desire and intent and utmost priority to honor the fallen with the appropriate honors within daily priorities and personnel constraints,” he said, noting the minimum requirements are two persons who fold a U.S. flag, present it to the veteran’s family and play Taps.
Citing MCO P3040.4E, Carabello said, “The two persons providing honors will be the exception rather than the norm.”
MCLB Albany provides 11 Marines when conducting full military funeral honors—a bugler, two Marines to fold and present the flag, a seven-man firing detail and a firing detail commander. Those who are part of the firing detail perform pallbearer duties first and fire the 21-gun salute later on, he added.
“Last year, we performed 54 military funeral honors, two of those were Marines killed in combat,” Carabello said. “The majority of them were Marines who served honorably and ages ranged from 40 years of age up to 98 years old.”
“One of the things that impresses me most considering this is not our primary job for all of us every time we do this whether it’s a Marine (who’s) done one or a Marine (who’s) done 10, they always maintain a posture of respect while we are doing the practices, doing the preparations, and of course, while performing the honors,” he said. “This takes a lot of respect and discipline to focus on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. They always do the best.”
Lance Cpl. Jacob Kennedy has served on the funeral detail for about eight months and performed about 30 funerals. An admin specialist with the Military Personnel Center, the 20-year-old from Erie, Pa., volunteered for the duty to help the community.
“The first few you do really hits you because you don’t know what it’s actually like unless you’ve been to a funeral before,” he said. “It’s always pretty hard to see people cry. They’re missing their loved ones who passed away. I guess we’re just there to help sooth that feeling knowing we’re brothers in arms.”
One of the most unique funerals, which left a lasting impression on Kennedy, was one of a Marine whose surviving twin brother was in the Air Force.
“Anybody (who) has a twin brother pass away in combat is pretty much like dropping a bomb on you,” he said. “When I was standing there in the rifle detail I was thinking like wow what if it was my brother. He was very appreciative we were there and gave each one of us a hug.”
For 29-year-old Cpl. Jason Womelsdorf, admin specialist, Military Personnel Center, serving on the funeral detail here since fall 2010 is a privilege he doesn’t take for granted.
Although he’s only performed fewer than 10 military funerals, the Springfield, Mo., native describes his duties as very fulfilling and “an honor to be able to dignify a Marine’s passing with providing ceremonial honors. Not every Marine has the ability or even the opportunity to be able to dignify his brothers or his sisters passing in that way. Personally, it is gratifying to be able to honor the family, the spouse, the kids, the loved ones who are there, by providing that aspect of the service. It’s great to be able to hear the reaction they have to us being there.”
Part of the firing detail that provides the 21-gun salute during military funeral honors, Lance Cpl. Sarai Perez, admin clerk, Military Personnel Center, has performed three funerals so far.
The 22-year-old Marine said she feels lucky to be able to participate in the special ceremonies.
“They’re quite emotional,” the Hollywood, Fla., native said. “It’s always a pleasure to help honor those people and for what they have done for us because without them there wouldn’t be a Marine Corps for me. It isn’t for us, it’s for the families.”
Deceased Marines’ next of kin or funeral homes can call the HQMC Casualty Branch at (703) 432-9524 or toll free (866) 826-3628 24 hours a day to request military funeral honors.