CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - -- The engine of a hearse hums. The door creaks as it opens. White-gloved hands grip the casket, covered by the American flag, on either side. The casket is slowly marched to its final resting place. As the rifle volley sends a ringing boom echoing throughout the cemetery, a solemn silence sets in. This signals the bugle call known all too well by those who have served their country. Taps.
There are various traditions in the military to honor and remember service members who’ve died. Monuments like the Vietnam War Memorial, which lists 58,000 names of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and the Arlington National Cemetery, home to 400,000 deceased service members, are testaments to those who have served their country.
Paying respect to fallen comrades is a common tradition in militaries across the globe. But the United States Marine Corps has a unique way of honoring their veterans. The honor guard is a team of volunteer Marines who provide a military funeral service for fallen Marines.
These Marines have various occupational specialties ranging from administration specialists to embarkation chiefs and everything in-between; however, when it comes time to bury and honor a fellow Marine, its members rely on the basics that unify the Corps regardless of job titles.
Honor Guard teams are made up of approximately 40 Marines who are responsible for conducting all funeral detail requests submitted to the bases where they are stationed.
The Headquarters and Support Battalion Honor Guard team for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton practices twice a week for an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During their practice, they execute drill movements, proper ceremonial flag folding procedures and the rifle drill movements.
“These funerals are the last time for the Marine Corps to pay respect and give their thanks for what has been done,” said Terry Pede, the officer-in-charge of the Headquarters and Support Battalion Honor Guard.
According to Pede, the Honor Guard has been practicing their drill movements to ensure they are always ready to carry out this duty for their fallen brothers and sisters-in-arms.
The honor guard performs funeral ceremonies in their Dress Blues. This Marine Corps uniform embodies the history and essence of the Marine Corps.
The ceremony begins with the marching of the casket to the final resting place, known in the ceremony as the ‘Final Walk’. This tradition, in which the deceased are marched feet-first in their casket, is symbolic. It represents the last time a Marine will drill with the precision and dedication that is taught from the first days of Marine Corps boot camp.
A quick rifle volley is fired, using Marine Corps rifle drill, also known as rifle manual. The last echo of the volley signals the playing of taps.
Just before the final fold of the flag, it is stuffed with rounds from the rifle detail and presented to the family in honor of the deceased.
Tradition and brotherhood in the Corps are what makes Marines unique. The Marine Corps has remained a band of brothers throughout the generations, and the Marines of today take pride in honoring those who went before them.
This is evident through the dedication and discipline that the honor guard perfects in practice and is represented in each ceremony.
“It’s only right for us to pay the final tribute, whether they served four years or 40 years, “said Pede.
For some members on the team, such as Cpl. Griselda Solis, attending funerals wasn’t something she was familiar with; however, as a pall bearer with the honor guard team, she takes pride in being part of these traditions.
“At first I wasn’t even sure what honor guard was,” said Solis. “That’s the last time they can be with their families; it feels really good to be there for them.”