11 Impactful Ways Funeral Directors Support Our Troops

By: Jessica Farren
Monday, December 4, 2023

Amidst a multitude of heartwarming tales about funeral directors going the extra mile to support our armed forces and pay homage to deceased veterans, one constant theme emerges: a timeless commitment that knows no bounds. From rallying the public to attend the funerals of veterans without families to crafting moving displays that honor our American troops, these stories shine a light on the unwavering dedication of funeral professionals to our military members.

In addition to these individual acts of kindness, funeral home associations have played a crucial role in creating employment opportunities for veterans and advocating for their interests in Congress. In this article, we’ll delve into some of these powerful narratives that illustrate the profound ways in which deathcare professionals stand by our nation’s servicemen and women.

1. HONORING VETERANS WHO PASS WITHOUT FAMILY

One of the ways our nation pays tribute to the sacrifices of our brave military is through the funeral rites given exclusively to deceased veterans. The firing of the three-volley salute, flag folding ceremony, and playing of taps are time-honored rituals used to emphasize the fact that a person who honorably served their country is being laid to rest. So, when a veteran passes away without any living family member there to ensure the proper funeral rites take place, funeral directors step in to guarantee these traditions are still carried out. However, many have gone far beyond this, taking it upon themselves to make certain no military man or woman is ever buried alone.

One great example occurred at Brown Funeral Home in Niles, MI when an intern was tasked with planning a funeral for a gentleman named Wayne Wilson who had no immediate family. When the intern learned from Wilson’s friends that he had fought in Vietnam, he put out a plea to the public asking them to help give the veteran the fitting farewell he deserved. The intern’s efforts brought 3,000 people who never met Wilson to the funeral service. As incredible as this story is, it is not the first time and will not be the last time a funeral professional mobilizes the public to ensure a veteran receives a proper tribute.

2. COLLECTING DONATIONS FOR SERVICE MEMBERS OVERSEAS

For many years, funeral homes across the country have held donation drives for troops serving overseas. Their efforts have helped countless military members feel closer to home. What’s more, these funeral homes will often gather donations multiple times a year, collecting Christmas stockings and Valentine’s Day cards to make holidays extra special for those who are serving. These donation drives bring happiness to deployed service personnel while inspiring generosity and goodwill within the community.

3. HOLDING MILITARY RECOGNITION EVENTS

One of the most crucial lessons learned from America’s conflict in Vietnam was how essential it is to celebrate and honor those who put their lives on the line in service to their country. It is a terrible tragedy that so many Vietnam veterans were treated with contempt and derision upon returning home. Thankfully, our society has worked to right this wrong by holding military recognition events that properly honor the courage and sacrifice of all who serve. One of the many ways deathcare professionals support vets in their local area is by holding recognition ceremonies, parades, holiday programs, and other veteran appreciation events. Funeral directors are often highly involved with their local V.F.W. and other military associations as it allows them to express their gratitude for those who protect our freedoms.

4. GIVING LOST OR UNCLAIMED VETS A PROPER SEND-OFF

It is a sad situation that occurs more often than one might think. A veteran passes but never receives a proper burial, either because their remains were not recovered or because they were never claimed by a family member. Years pass and then someone discovers a hero who had to be left behind. It is then when a funeral director will often volunteer to help, donating his or her time and resources to ensure the vet receives a proper burial with full military honors. In some cases, this involves handling the logistics of bringing a service member home who died overseas, sometimes many decades ago, and was unable to return with their unit. Other cases involve the discovery of unclaimed cremated remains, which has led some deathcare professionals to put on their detective hats to track down the veteran’s descendants. If none can be found, they will often work with organizations like the Missing in America Recovery Project to guarantee the serviceman or woman is properly honored.

5. ADVOCATING ON BEHALF OF VETERANS TO LAWMAKERS

Funeral professionals have an active voice within the walls of the federal government through the advocacy efforts of the National Funeral Directors Association. Lesley Witter, Senior Vice President of Advocacy, has led the charge in representing the interests of the funeral service community in Washington D.C., and helping to ensure the issues they care about are given priority attention by lawmakers. One of these issues is improving funeral and burial benefits for veterans and their families.

For years, funeral directors have met with lawmakers to advocate on behalf of military families. Their efforts have had a meaningful impact. At the beginning of 2021, the BRAVE Act was signed into law after many months of lobbying from funeral directors. This important piece of legislation updates the statute so that all non-service connected deaths are treated equally and veterans receive the same benefits regardless of where they pass away.

6. SUPPORTING THE JOURNEY TO SERVE INITIATIVE

In 2021, the Funeral Service Foundation and ICCFA Education Foundation announced they would be collaborating on a new joint project aimed at recruiting military veterans into careers throughout the funeral service profession. Funded equally by both foundations and endorsed by ICCFA and NFDA, the Journey to Serve initiative provides tools and resources to aid in veteran recruitment on a local, regional, and national scale. Funeral directors can visit www.journeytoserve.com to download a toolkit that will help them recruit and hire more military veterans to work at their funeral business.

7. OFFERING FREE CASKETS TO VETERANS

The appreciation and gratitude morticians have for veterans shape how many funeral home owners choose to run their businesses. In fact, some mortuaries such as J. Allen Hooper Funeral Home in Morrisville, PA, and Dickey Funeral and Cremation Services in Laredo, TX are so invested in their relationship with vets in their community that they will provide services or funeral merchandise such as caskets and urns to veteran families free. The generosity of these funeral homes and their willingness to give back to our nation’s heroes is truly incredible.

8. CREATING POWERFUL DISPLAYS TO HONOR SERVICE MEMBERS

There is a reason why in America we fly the flag at half-staff during a period of mourning. Visual symbols of remembrance and love can have a powerful impact on those who view them. Many funeral professionals have endeavored to create spaces inside or outside their mortuary chapel that pay tribute to the sacrifices made by military veterans. These symbolic displays serve as evocative reminders for all who enter the funeral home to take time to appreciate those who protect our freedoms.

9. HELPING VETERANS IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

“Remake the world, a little at a time. Each in your own corner of the world.”

This quote from author Rick Riordan really captures the mission of so many deathcare professionals. Understanding the influence they have to effect change on a local level, many funeral directors seek out ways they can help those in their own backyard. This includes building relationships with the local veteran community and determining what some of the unmet needs are of those individuals. Maybe it’s hosting a dinner for the VFW, offering a donation drive for veteran families, or helping vets connect with one another. Funeral directors are passionate about giving our servicemen and women the recognition they deserve when they return to their hometowns.

10. OFFERING A FLAG RETIREMENT PROGRAM

The American flag is a revered symbol of freedom and liberty. However, most people are unsure what they should do when a flag becomes weathered or torn. The Veterans Flag Retirement Program provides a solution to this dilemma while honoring veterans. Funeral homes that participate in the program ensure each veteran who is entrusted to their care for cremation is done so with a donated worn or tattered flag, ensuring unusable flags are properly disposed of while honoring a hero. Funeral homes will welcome anyone in their community to drop off worn and tattered flags to be used for this purpose. It is just another example of funeral homes going that extra mile to salute our nation’s veterans.

11. COORDINATING WREATHS ACROSS AMERICA EVENTS

Wreaths Across America is a national campaign to remember and honor veterans by laying wreaths on their gravesites during the holiday season. Every year, Wreaths Across America volunteers lay hundreds of thousands of memorial wreaths. The organization works to find local support in different areas and coordinate wreath-laying ceremonies at veteran cemeteries nationwide. Many funeral homes have gotten involved with these efforts, coordinating donation and volunteer efforts in their local area. This is a wonderful way to encourage the entire community to remember and honor veterans who have served our country.

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