July 19, 2010 
by Gordon Duff  

Full Military Honors Funeral vs Congressional Funeral 

By Joe “Ragman” Tarnovsky for Veterans Today

When a veteran dies, one entitlement we are guaranteed because of the contract for military service we signed among ourselves and the United States government, is a full military honor funeral if we were discharged from the service under circumstances other than dishonorable.

Like other promises made to veterans when we are young and considered assets to do the killing and dying for America, when we become older we are then looked at as liabilities and to save money, many of the promises made during our enlistment are then broken after the government has used us for the dirty work.

The promises and guarantees by law for our military service are eliminated when budget cuts are needed or our families are just given excuses why some entitlements cannot be met. Such is the case of veterans’ funerals with full military honors.

   In our country, The United States Army Military District of Washington, DC is responsible for providing military funerals to eligible veterans. “Honoring Those Who Served” is the motto for the group that is responsible for providing a funeral with full military honors for all the men and women that have served this Nation in military uniform. Having this type of ceremony when we, as veterans, depart this world is one thing that set us apart from everybody else; well, at least that was the way it was supposed to be for us.

On May 6th, 1984, the United States Congress and the Assistant Secretary of Defense of Legislative Affairs signed an agreement, called Operation Plan TRIBUTE, which authorizes certain individuals a Congressional funeral, including serving members of the Senate and House. So with the terminology changed from FULL MILITARY HONORS to CONGRESSIONAL FUNERAL, the government, if requested by the serving member of the House or Senate or a family member, gets a sendoff that is befitting of a Head of State with full military honors even if the individual never served a day in military uniform. Such is the case with the death of Robert Byrd, long time serving Senator from West Virginia. 

Let me set the record straight before I write any further, this is NOT about being a democrat or a republican, left or right wing, it is not a personal attack against Byrd himself, or the fact that he was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan or that he filibustered civil rights legislation, it is about the hypocrisy that probably has been in existence since our Nation was founded when it comes to the veterans that serve America and those that do not. This article is about how veterans are continuously “short changed” when it comes to the Nation and Department Of Veterans Affairs abiding by the agreement made when we signed our enlistment contracts when we were 18 year old kids. This article is also about how those that never served in the military can now get a “Congressional Funeral” if they are currently serving in the Senate or House even if they are not a veteran, a sendoff that looks like, sounds like and smells like a Full Military Honors Funeral.

I have been to several veteran’s funerals over the years and I have yet to attend one where all five branches of the United States military is present like they were for Robert Byrd. By law, as of January 1st, 2000, Section 578 of Public Law 106-65 of the National Defense Authorization Act states that the United States Armed Forces shall render the honor of a military funeral for any eligible veteran if requested by his family. This FEDERAL LAW states that the honor guard detail for the veteran’s funeral will consists of no less than two members of the Armed Forces and one of those members will be of the same service that the deceased veteran served in while on active duty. The law also mandates that, at a minimum, there will be a folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin and a lone bugler will play TAPS, if a bugler is available. If not, there will be a recording of TAPS played. This law also permits Reserve and National Guard troops to perform the ceremony if needed.

Of the military funerals I have been to over the years for veterans that have honorably served this Nation, I have NEVER seen a funeral like the one accorded to Robert Byrd, a non-veteran! All five branches participated in the ceremony, there was a flag presenter and a bugler. There were also three volleys of fire for Byrd, a custom that dates back many years to allow the living to remove fallen warriors from the battlefield. The three volleys were then fired so both sides knew that they could then continue fighting.

I do not know why Byrd never served in the military, I cannot find that answer, but he was a welder on cargo ships during World War 2 which does NOT make him a warrior. It does not matter if Byrd was 4F, medically disqualified for military service, the point being is he should not have had such an elaborate funeral with all the military honors because he did not serve and did not earn the right. The politicians are crafty though and manipulate the system and ”juggle jargon” to honor themselves like they were four star generals! Instead of FULL MILITARY HONORS FUNERAL, people like Byrd, non-veterans, get a CONGRESSIONAL FUNERAL if they are currently serving with all five branches of the military present if requested by the family.

Again, my words are not because he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan at one time, that he filibustered the civil rights bill, that he was a democrat or that he brought home billions of “pork barrel” spending, my issue is that he was not a veteran of the military service, for whatever reason, and he did not deserve all the Armed Forces hoopla when veterans that do serve often times get no member of the military present, a honor guard from the local VFW or American Legion and a recording of TAPS!

Before I close, I would like to thank the local honor guards from the service organizations that VOLUNTEER their time to make sure a veteran gets the military honor that he/she is entitled to by law, my words are in no way meant as an insult or to be demeaning to them. If it were not for these selfless men and women, veterans would get nothing at all as a military funeral because the active duty Armed Forces are stretched so thin because of the two on going wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike the days of Vietnam, when most Reserve and National Guard units were safe havens for those trying to duck the war in Southeast Asia, the members of the Reserve and National Guard are also over used in fighting these wars and cannot be present for a veteran’s funeral.

The local veteran’s service organizations step up and fill the void and do the job to make sure a veteran is not forgotten and given the proper send off the he/she earned because they chose to serve in the military; a fine job they do, too. It still does not negate the fact that a non-veteran like Byrd gets much more that he deserved from the active duty military because of his lack of service and a military veteran gets much less! The ultimate slap in the face for veterans will come when Dick Cheney passes on and even though he is not a serving member of Congress, somehow, I feel he will get the same elaborate military funeral like that of Byrd. At least Byrd always felt he wished he could have served in the military and he truly admired and respected his fellow senators that were military veterans of his generation’s war, World War 2. Dick, five deferment, Cheney did everything in his power to avoid the military and Vietnam War and then had the audacity to say he would have served if called. To get called by the military, Dick, you have to stop going out of your way to avoid getting called.

Joe ‘Ragman’ Tarnovsky

Vietnam Combat Veteran

28 August 68 to 22 Oct 70

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