Budget Cuts Hit Veterans at the End
Your dad served his country and served it well. In his twilight years, he told you he wanted, nee expected, full military honors. The Great Roll Call came, and your father passed on. Upon calling, the funeral director was told that two soldiers with a flag and a tape recorder would plan show up at the funeral. Not what you expected? Neither did Roger Smith.
Robert James Smith was a Pearl Harbor veteran who passed away in Oregon on August 19th, 2012. His son, Roger, discovered firsthand what years of budget cuts have done to military Honor Guards assigned to funerals. Postponing his father’s funeral for close to two weeks to try and arrange full military honors, which he believed included a live bugler and 21-gun salute, he eventually gave up and hired a bugler himself. Two Honor Guards did show up to fold and present the flag; for one of the guards, it was her second funeral of the day.
Budget cuts have decimated Honor Guards across the country. According to the Department of Defense’s Military Funeral Honors website, “By law, military units are required to provide, at a minimum, a two-person uniformed detail to present the core elements of the Funeral Honors ceremony.” Upon further investigation, the Frequently Asked Questions page states that “The honor detail will, at a minimum, perform a ceremony that includes the folding and presentation of the American Flag to the next of kin and the playing of Taps. Taps will be played by a bugler, if available, or by electronic recording (tape, CD or Ceremonial Bugle).” And that’s about all many veterans will receive.
Electronic recording of Taps at military funerals were authorized in 2003. Honor Guards were being stretched to their limits with the combat deaths of service members in the Middle East and the natural aging of the veteran community. Add to that the limited number of service members that play the bugle at a professional level, and the already limited resources hit the breaking point. A recording plays while a soldier pretends to play the bugle. While initially few and far between, electronic recordings are becoming more and more commonplace.
Bottom line; if you are expecting the gun salute, a color guard, a live bugler, caissons, or pallbearers, prepare to be disappointed.